After spending the last few weeks looking at all of Alabama’s incoming offensive players (Backfield, pass catchers, and OL), we are now moving on to the side of the ball that wins championships*.
*a decade ago, at least. May no longer be applicable
When Pete Golding took over at defensive coordinator in 2019, Alabama had a mass exodus from the season before on the defensive line. And with that, the trio of Byron Young, D.J. Dale, and Justin Eboigbe all became starters as true freshmen and maintained that through 2022. It was rocky, for sure. But we did see improvement each year. That said, the defensive front the last four years just hasn’t quite been the dominant unit that Alabama fans had become accustomed to for the decade prior.
And so, now comes a new recruiting class set to bring in new talent for the future for Kevin Steele’s old-school approach.
As always, I’ll be giving a short summary on each player, any info on his athletic profile (SPARQ is dead, sadly), my thoughts on his traits, and how I think he’ll fit in Alabama’s depth chart and scheme. All rankings and heights/weights will be from the 247Sports Composite, as I think they do the best job at rating and ranking players. Though I will mention if any of the other services have a particularly different opinion on certain player.
There is some overlap between linebackers and DL as most “edge” players are more linebacker sized but play on the line. I’ll include the edge rushers in the next article with the linebackers, but there are a couple of guys who were high school edge rushers that I think will wind up as pure DL at Alabama and will keep them in this article.
Since enrolling at Alabama in January, Renaud has already bulked up to 261 pounds and is listed as a DL, so he’s our tweener player that I mentioned in the intro who isn’t necessarily an edge rusher.
His stats weren’t eye-popping in high school, but he consistently competed in the top circuits in both Florida and Texas while also doing a lot of track and field work - both longer-distance dashes and shot-put events. For the most part, Alabama had to compete with the Midwest schools for his signature: Oklahoma, TCU, Texas A&M.
ESPN in particular is a big fan, rating him at #50 overall and the #4 interior defensive lineman in the country.
The first word that comes to mind when watching Renaud is solid. He’s like a solid brick wall at the point of contact with blockers and won’t lose ground. But he’s also solid in his techniques, angles, and play responsibilities, and his tackles are also just... solid.
His most impressive attribute, to me, is how he uses arms that look longer than they should be to engage blockers, keep them away from him, and then digging in and bull-rushing them backwards before slipping around to make a tackle.
Again, he’s doing all of this at only 245 pounds while looking as stout and powerful as a 280-pound collegiate defensive end. As he adds mass, he’s only going to get more powerful with his already amazing power and use of leverage.
Renaud doesn’t display a whole lot as a gap-shooter or a slippery pass rusher, but he’s a phenomenal run stopper, shows a college-level understanding of two-gap responsibilities, and is going to get a whole lot of clean-up sacks and tackles for loss as he pushes blockers into the backfield and makes a thud of a tackle as QBs/RBs try to reroute.
In high school, he primarily played defensive end on a 3-3-5 defense. Sort of a big end, 5Tech position that lines up directly across from the offensive tackle but often attacks their inside shoulder, rather than outside.
This is right in line with what Nick Saban has generally always preferred, agnostic of his defensive coordinator, as the weak-side defensive end in base packages. If he’s able to move fully inside as an interior rusher, he could become a full 3-down player (think the old Jonathan Allen role) who plays defensive end and moves in to defensive tackle on passing downs.
Alabama likely has their three starters lined up for 2023 in Justin Eboigbe, Jaheim Oatis, and Tim Smith, so my prediction section for all the players in this article is going to be a bit lackluster. There’s also quite a bit of depth behind those three starters.
Renaud may make a special teams unit for his blocking ability (he also plays TE), but I don’t think we see him on defense this year as he works on adding mass.
Similarly to Renaud, Hunter Osborne left high school at a lighter weight than we usually see on Alabama’s defensive line, but is already up to 275 after enrolling in Tuscaloosa. He’s a multi-year starter for a playoff squad at the 7A level in the state of Alabama in Hewitt-Trussville, so he’s got good competitive experience through his high school career.
At as his best, Osborne is an edge-setting specialist who uses outstanding length, balance, and core strength to take on blockers and keep ball carriers strung out without being able to get around him. He tackles like a vulture, often reaching out with wide arms to grab on and take up way more space than his actual size.
He may not be extremely twitchy or explosive off the snap, but he does have a long stride and surprising closing speed that can chase down WRs or QBs trying to beat him to the sidelines.
Like Renaud, Osborne is a natural fit as a base defensive end in Nick Saban’s 3-4. He’ll have to develop his interior rush game to be able to carve out playing time for himself in 2-down lineman formations.
I think Osborne is a redshirt guy this year. He’s likely a step or so behind Renaud in the same position, and as such is more of a developmental depth guy.
While ESPN, 247, and Rivals all view Hill as a prospect ranked in the 200s, On3 actually differed a bit and has him at 93rd overall, and they note that he ran a 5.0 forty yard dash and a 4.65 shuttle - solid numbers for a 300 pound tackle.
Hill is one of those guys who, a few years from now, I think has a very good chance to be a fan favorite type of player. He’s a little undersized for a defensive tackle/nose tackle, but he’s soooo slippery and is always making plays in the backfield. Seriously, 18 tackles for loss from the nose tackle spot his senior year is AWESOME.
He’s got an exceptionally nasty swim move that he couple with a kind of cross-up shimmy move that will put centers on skates trying to stay in front of him, and he often turns that into a drive-killing play. Add in a nose for swatting passes, and you have the bones of a phenomenal interior pass rusher - a skill set that is highly valued in college and even more so in the NFL.
He’s got some work to do to withstand double teams and taking on blocks on a consistent basis, but the negative play upside is extremely high.
Unlike the previous two guys, Hill is singularly a one-gap player who will excel at shooting through to the backfield. A decade ago, that would mean he was relegated to 3rd downs. Now, that style of defensive tackle often plays much more of the game. And Kevin Steele’s defenses at other programs have leaned more towards that penetrating style than we are used to seeing under Nick Saban.
While I think it will be a few years before we see Hill come into his own, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him a bit throughout this year as constant guy in mop-up duty.
While all of the other prospects have bulked up upon arriving at Alabama, Smith is now listed on the Tide’s roster at a svelte 295 pounds- down from 310 in high school. He was arguably the most talked about recruit for Alabama fans in the process, as he and 5-star teammate Qua Russaw were a package duo who waited all the way up to Signing Day before announcing intentions.
On3 continues to give Alabama some love here, and they view Smith as not just a 5-star, but a top-10 prospect.
I’ll put things this way: It’s not often you get a full 12-minute highlight reel for a defensive tackle.
Smith blends speed, quickness, and explosion off the line to be a dominant force in the backfield. He moves around to different spots on the defensive line, and can win with power, can pull off a spin move, and can even just pull a pure speed rush on the edge on occasion.
Where he excels, though, is using his quick, choppy feet to set up a blocker, give them a shove and a sidestep at the same time, and then chase down the ball. He’s a relentless pursuer who will fight through block after block after block to weave his way all the way across the field and get in on a tackle if he has to.
He’s not the biggest or stoutest player for taking on blocks from a standstill, but he does know how to use his speed to really slam into a blocker and win with violence and explosion.
As I mentioned above, he’s a versatile guy who can play end, tackle, or nose on any given play. I think, initially, he’ll focus more on 1-gapping and pass rush packages, but down the round can develop into basically any thing on the line he wants to do.
If this were a year where Alabama had open spots on the defensive line, I’d expect Smith to be right in the thick of things to win the job as a true freshman. As it stands, though, there’s a massive logjam for playing time. So things kind of depend on how Kevin Steele rotates his line... but I think we see Smith a little bit this year as a rotational guy. Not a lot... But definitely enough to keep him in our sights throughout the year.