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Alabama 2021 Spring Football Preview: Defensive line

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Options abound on the Tide’s defensive line

NCAA Football: Alabama at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama is stacked on the defensive line, even with the loss of sack-leader Christian Barmore. There’s plenty of talent and plenty of returning experience to fill out the starting line-up and the rotation.

The Departed

Christian Barmore - A 4 star in the Class of 2018 out of Philadelphia, he redshirted his first year before working his way into the rotation in 2019. As a redshirt freshman, Barmore played in 12 of 13 games with one start and earned SEC All-Freshman honors. A knee injury in fall camp before the 2020 season forced him to miss the opener and slowed him a bit in the early part of the season. You could tell he started getting better as the season progressed, though; and six of his eight sacks came in the final six games. Four of his five starts were also the final four games. His eight sacks were second in the SEC while his 9.5 tackles for loss were tied for sixth. His performance was good enough for first team All-SEC honors. Barmore declared for the NFL draft, and he will likely be a first or second round pick.

Returning Starters

LaBryan Ray - Ray is the last of the six 5 stars from the Class of 2017. It’s incredible how snake-bit he’s been with injuries, dealing with one in three of his four seasons. That has limited him to just 31 games with 7 starts, including 3 last year. What makes it especially frustrating is the talent he’s flashed when healthy. Ray recorded 9 tackles in the three games he played in 2019 before his season-ending injury. Ray recorded 11 tackles in the first three games of 2020 before an elbow injury caused him to miss half of the remaining games and limited him in the others.

Phidarian Mathis - The Wisner, Louisiana product redshirted his first season in 2017, but he has been a valuable piece of the defensive line for the past three years. Mathis made the SEC All-Freshman in 2018 and took on a bigger role the following year, earning two starts while playing in every game but one. In 2020, Mathis had the third-most starts (6) on the defensive line last year, including five straight from Tennessee-LSU. We may not see much of him this spring because of an injury, but he has plenty of experience and will factor into the rotation at the least come fall.

D.J. Dale - The former 4 star from Birmingham has been a stalwart in the middle of the Tide defensive line the last two seasons. He enrolled early, earned first team reps that spring, and locked down the starting job as a true freshman. He was named the SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week after his very first game at Duke had a solid year before a season-ending injury in his tenth game. Dale bounced back and once again locked down his position as a starter. He started 12 of 13 games last year, the only defensive lineman to have double digit starts.

Justin Eboigbe - Eboigbe was thrown into the fire fairly early in his career after LaBryan Ray went down in 2019. He had just two starts as a true freshman, but he was a key part of the rotation. Eboigbe took that experience and built on it, starting 9 games in 2020, including the season opener. His 9 starts were the second-most on the team, and he remained an important part of the rotation even though he didn’t light up the stat sheet. He did have this fun play, however.

Byron Young - Young was tossed into the fire as a freshman with Eboigbe. The Mississippi native played in all 13 games with 5 starts, including the final four.. Young only started 1 game in 2020, but he was a disruptive force rotating in. He totaled 29 tackles with 6.5 for a loss (tied for sixth on the team and in the top 30 in the SEC) as he played in all 13 games.

Returning Reserves

Stephon Wynn, Jr. - Wynn has played relatively sparingly over his three seasons. He played in two games as a true freshman in 2018 and stayed under the redshirt limit. Wynn earned a bigger role in 2019, playing in 9 games. Unfortunately for him, the all SEC schedule of 2020 limited his playing time to just 2 games. That and the rise of some youngsters I’ll detail below.

Braylen Ingraham - Ingraham is a former 4 star from the Class of 2019. He’s been buried on the depth chart his two seasons with the Tide and has played in two games each year.

Tim Smith - Smith is one of the youngsters I mentioned. He turned some heads early and was listed as the second team nose guard behind Dale (technically Ishmael Sopsher was co-second with Smith, but Sopsher never played for Alabama and hit the transfer portal mid-season). Smith was hard to keep off the field; and he earned more playing time as the season went on, eventually playing in 9 total games.

Jamil Burroughs - Burroughs also forced his way into playing time as a true freshman. He made his debut against Georgia, like Smith, and wound up playing in 6 games. That’s despite not making the three deep on the initial roster.

Jah-Marien Latham - Latham - a 4 star in the Class of 2020 from Reform, Alabama who was coached by former Alabama player Michael Williams - committed to the Tide early in the process, way back in November 2018. He saw the field once last season, against Mississippi State.

Newcomers

Monkell Goodwine - Goodwine was another blue-chip recruit Nick Saban and company pulled from the DMV area (D.C., Maryland, Virginia). He’s listed at 6’4, 278lbs and looks to be able to play inside or outside on the line. Here’s some of what Brent had to say in his Meet the New Guys series:

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.

Depth Chart

DE: LaBryan Ray, Stephon Wynn, Jr., Braylen Ingraham

NG: D.J. Dale, Tim Smith, Jamil Burroughs

DE: Justin Eboigbe, Byron Young, Jah-Marien Latham

This is just for the spring. Phidarian Mathis is expected to be limited, but he will have a spot in the rotation (and likely some starts) once the season rolls around. His absence this spring gives some veterans like Wynn and Ingraham a shot to make an impression, but the younger guys will also get a chance to show out.

With how much the staff rotates guys, the nominal starters aren’t hugely important since their back-ups will play plenty. This line-up could also change by the fall with more true freshmen, like 5 star Damon Payne, arriving in the summer.