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2023 Alabama Fall Football Preview: Will the Defensive Line round into form this season?

There’s a LOT of depth, but very little proven depth.

Alabama v Ole Miss Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

At Alabama, there is a legacy dominance along the defensive line. Daron Payne, Quinnen Williams, and Jonathan Allen and 3 of the top 5 highest paid DL in the NFL, Dalvin Tomlinson has his own big deal, and Raekwon Davis, Christian Barmore, Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson are all starters in various stages of their careers as well.

That said, Alabama’s had a few struggles along the interior in recent years. The run defense struggled in 2019 and part of 2020 before putting together a phenomenal season behind Phil Mathis and Byron Young in 2021. 2022, though, saw a decline again as Alabama was gashed on the ground against Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, and Kansas State (but, funny enough, totally shut down Bijan Robinson and the Texas rushing atttack).

With a new defensive coordinator on board, Alabama fans will be hoping for something of a return to form from the Tide’s defensive line.


DJ Dale - After making his way onto the field as a surprise starter as a freshman in 2019, Dale flashed early and often, but wound up limited by a knee injury. Some of that explosiveness just never seemed to come back as the veteran started for 3 more years at nose tackle. He consistently averaged a shade under 20 tackles each year with a couple of TFLs on all four seasons. He went undrafted, but has so far hung on to a roster spot with the Bills through the preseason.

Byron Young - Similarly to Dale, Young saw the field early as a freshman in 2019 as a bit of a surprise to most Alabama fans. It was a rocky freshman season for Young, but he kept improving his game each year and was the emotional leader of the line over the last two seasons. His 2021 season saw him increase his tackle numbers to 40 and notch an impressive 9.5 tackles for loss. And then in 2022, he got even more tackles (47) and a career high 3.5 sacks. He was selected as 1st team All-SEC and wound up a 3rd round draft pick to the Raiders.

Jamil Burroughs - Got in a fight with a staff member and then bolted to the portal. Oh well. Bye.

Returning Starters

Jaheim Oatis - If everything goes right for this defensive line, it will be Oatis as the straw that stirs the drink. Just a year ago, Oatis was a nearly 400-lb high school recruit that was getting some camp hype as someone who had lost a bunch of weight and looked like he could be a contributor. He was backup to DJ Dale early on, but saw his playing time increase throughout the year as he wound up a Freshman All-SEC player.

Oatis is now down to 320 pounds, and figures to be the centerpiece of the line.

Justin Eboigbe - Eboigbe was part of that same freshman trio back in 2019 with Dale and Young as a crew of young guys thrust into playing too early. He was a regular contributor for three seasons and was looking to have taken a step forward in 2022 before a neck injury ended his season only a few games in. The 5th year senior is now coming back and should be the main starter alongside Oatis

Tim Smith- Once a 5-star recruit, Smith has been a rotational piece for Alabama for the last 3 seasons. The senior has yet to really flash the 5-star ability, but has been a regular piece and occasional starter for the Tide. For now, assume he is the most likely 3rd starter.

Returning Depth

Nick Saban has really stocked up here over the last couple of years, so we’re going to hit this group with a more rapid-fire approach:

Jah-Marien Latham - A lighter, 280-lb type, Latham has seen a little playing time as more of a smaller-front pass rusher. Should have a rotational role

Damon Payne - Former 5-star. Has seen little playing time in his first two seasons.

Khurtiss Perry - Redshirted last year. At under 270 pounds, is likely only a 3rd down pass rusher for now.

Tim Keenan - 340-lb nose tackle. He’s been mentioned a couple of times this fall as someone who’s been impressing. He might play a little.

Monkell Goodwine - 3rd year guy. Probably a career backup at this point.

Isaiah Hastings - Redshirted last year. Still deep down the depth chart

Anquin Barnes - Third year player. Also a ways down the depth chart.


James Smith - The 5-star freshman out of Montgomery comes in with a lot of hype. He can play anything from Nose tackle to edge rusher and be disruptive all over the line. Can he adapt to college ball and become a year 1 contributor? That’s definitely the hope. There have not been any rumors about him from fall camp yet, though.

Jordan Renaud - Another sub-270 guy. Expect a redshirt this year.

Hunter Osborne - Probably a redshirt

Edric Hill - Also most likely a redshirt

Seriously, there’s a whole lot of players here who probably aren’t getting playing time, or even close to cracking the two-deep. Saban has been loading up this position in the last few recruiting classes, and so far, only Oatis has really risen above. Hopefully, another guy or two in this whole glut of reserves start to make some waves.

Predicted Depth Chart

I’ll give a depth for base 3 linemen, but Alabama only ran with 2 players on the DL for the majority of plays last season. So it’s really like 2.5 starters instead of 3.

DE - Justin Eboigbe, Jah-Marien Latham

DT - Jaheim Oatis, Tim Keenan

DE - Tim Smith, James Smith

Eboigbe and Oatis will play the majority of snaps. I think Tim Smith is the 3rd guy... And his job is far from safe. If freshman James Smith or maybe Damon Payne can step up and take it, I won’t be surprised.

I think Tim Keenan is the clear backup NT behind Oatis. And Latham will not be a starter, but will get plenty of snaps as a rotational pass rusher.