In case you’ve missed it, we’ve spent the last three weeks taking an in-depth look at every newcomer for the Alabama offense in the 2021 recruiting class:
In the next few weeks leading up to the end of spring practice and Alabama’s A-Day game, we’ll be looking at the incoming defensive players.
Like I said last week, this series of articles is looking a bit different this year. The onset of Covid-19 last spring left all of the Nike combines cancelled, so we wound up with absolutely no verified testing or SPARQ data. On top of that, most players wound up with shortened senior seasons, so there’s even fewer highlights than normal to look at.
Regardless, we’ll be breaking down all we can about each prospect and trying to project how they’ll fit on the Crimson Tide in years to come.
For the purposes of dividing things up, this article will focus on the interior defensive line players, and the following article will group the off-ball linebackers with the edge rushers.
Alabama has consistently brought in one elite defensive lineman from the D.C. area in each of the last 4 classes, and Goodwine continues that trend. He had his senior season cancelled due to Covid, so projections are based off of what recruiters saw as a junior (which was extremely promising). He’s already enrolled at Alabama, and has bulked up from 260 to 278 pounds, signifying that the coaching staff intends for him to be an interior lineman, rather than an edge rusher, in his career.
Generally, Nick Saban has preferred his defensive linemen in one of three categories: the nose tackle (generally around 315+ pounds), the 5T defensive end (usually leaner, around 300 pounds), and the edge rushers, who are really 250 pound linebacker hybrids.
Every so often, though, he’ll take a flyer on a more mid-sized guy. Jonathan Allen and D’Shawn Hand come to mind. Goodwine fits this same mold as a defensive end, and he’s definitely got better speed than most defensive linemen that Alabama usually trots out. Goodwine has tremendous closing speed and can evaporate open space on stretch running plays from the backside. He’s excellent as a clean-up sack guy who will rock the QB from the blindside as they start to try and move up out of the pocket.
He’s got good enough speed to be a pure edge rusher, can convert that speed into a powerful bull rush, and even has the hands to pull off the occasional swim move.
Like I mentioned earlier, Goodwine doesn’t exactly fit the traditional 3-4 scheme, as he’s a little bigger than an edge rushing linebacker and isn’t quite big enough to hold up as an interior tackle. However, guys like Jonathan Allen wound up getting up to about 290 to be a base down edge rusher that can rush from the inside as well.
It will likely take some experimenting to figure out exactly where and how the coaches want to fit him in to a rotation.
I don’t expect to see much of Goodwine as a freshman considering the amount of returning experience, but I think he’ll wind up as a rotation piece by his third year in the program, with potential to become a regular starter.
A massive tree stump of a dude right out of Tuscaloosa’s backyard, Keenan is a local guy who will be sure to fill that role of fan favorite “Giant Nose Tackle” dude for years to come. He’s one of only four 3-star players to sign with the Tide in this recruiting class, so he’ll have his work cut out for him to outshine the more highly recruited guys he’ll be surrounded by.
Keenan will enroll in Alabama this summer.
Keenan is a true nose tackle who loves to line up directly over the center and give it his best effort to knock the center on his butt as soon as the ball is snapped. He’s shorter and stout, and so he can really dip down and then explode into the offensive lineman. He wrecked his fair share of plays in high school by ragdolling center into the QB.
He’s got a lot of experience at taking on a double or even triple team and holding his ground, and still giving an effort to control two gaps and shed to make a tackle.
He’s not going to be threat rushing the passer or chasing anyone down, and isn’t going to shed too many blocks on counter moves, but for a throwback nose tackle, he’s got all the power you could ever ask for.
Keenan probably would have been a multi-year starter for the Saban defenses from 2008 to 2014. However, as offenses have changed, I think he’ll likely need to get down to at least 320 (or lower) to get to where he has enough quickness to complement his power if he ever wants to play a role on the Alabama defense.
Assuming he slims down and quickens up in the next couple of years, then I could see him eventually winding up with a meaningful role as an upperclassman as the team’s nose tackle on base downs that subs out for an extra pass rusher when the Tide goes to a double-edge rusher look.
Another local defensive lineman, Barnes is built a bit taller and leaner than Keenan, and is a versatile athlete who could very well decide to end up playing on the offensive line in college, though most recruiting services are projecting him on defense.
He’s a summer enrollee, so we won’t know until August where he’s practicing. Until then, I’m just going to assume he’ll be on defense.
Barnes is a big guy that plays even bigger than his listed 300 pound weight. He offers little in terms of explosiveness off the snap, but generally does a good job of stalemating the guy blocking him. His defining quality is his length. At 6’5”, he’s got a huge wingspan and takes down a lot of running backs from the side as they think they’re slipping by a guy that’s being blocked.
While he’s never going to be someone that makes big plays in the backfield, he’s definitely go the ability to be a sound 2-gap guy that can prevent big runs and hold his own in short yardage.
Barnes can play both as a nose tackle or the other interior tackle for Alabama’s defense, and his consistency at controlling gaps will win him some favor with Saban, no matter what defense is being run.
Ultimately, I think Barnes is a depth guy for his career, and could eventually be someone we see in big games on goal line situations.
*As a side note, I think he might have a better path to becoming a true contributor for the Tide if he switches to play guard for the offensive line. His size, strength, and arm length lends better to playing offense, in my opinion.
With no relation to a previous 5-star defensive tackle who played for Alabama named Payne, Damon Payne is one of the highest ranked members of Alabama’s 2021 recruiting class and will have eyes on him from day one watching to see what kind of impact he could have.
He’s a muscularly built 300-lb guy who played both offense and defense, though he’s settled in as a defensive tackle and is expected to stay on defense in the future.
Payne is a huge ball of pure energy who excels as an interior pass rusher. He’s lightning quick off the snap, and then combines that with some absolutely nasty rip and swim moves that will leave offensive linemen grasping at air. He’s got a knack for sidestepping block attempts and slipping through the line of scrimmage to make huge tackles for loss. He’s also got the energy and stamina that you’ll often see him chasing plays waaaayy down the field, even when he’s playing on offense.
He’s much more like former Tide standout Quinnen Williams in regards to being more of a single-gap chaos-maker than he is a big run-stopper who will control the line of scrimmage.
Payne isn’t quite a perfect fit for Saban’s desire to have 2-gap players on the defensive interior, but he’s too talented of an interior pass-rusher to pass up. He’ll likely have to take some time to adjust to learning to play with more of the discipline that’s required in a 2-gap scheme, but he’ll absolutely be unleashed as a nickel/dime pass rusher even before then, similar to how Alabama worked in Christian Barmore before he eventually became a more full-time player.
There’s a lot of returning experience on the defensive line for Alabama, so I don’t really expect to see Payne this season. He may work in mop-up duty a few times, but he ultimately takes a redshirt. He’ll be a situational pass-rusher meant to be a guy who brings the energy to close out a game in his second year, and then work his way into being an every-down starter and impact player by year 3.