Today, we’ll examine the defensive line, which lost three of its top four players from the 2012 national championship team. That includes ends Damion Square, a team captain, and Quinton Dial, the chief backup, and all-Southeastern Conference noseguard Jesse Williams.
That’s a lot to replace, especially when considering Alabama believes it has to win up front to win games.
Defensive linemen ready for spring: Ed Stinson, senior; Jeoffrey Pagan, sophomore; Brandon Ivory, junior; LaMichael Fanning, sophomore; Darren Lake, sophomore; Wilson Love, sophomore; Korren Kirven, redshirt freshman; Dalvin Tomlinson, redshirt freshman; Dakota Ball, redshirt freshman.
Defensive lineman coming in the fall: Jonathan Allen, freshman; Dee Liner, freshman; Darius Paige, freshman; A’Shawn Robinson, freshman.
Outlook: As with just about every other position in Alabama’s offense, defense and special teams lineup, defensive line has potential stars waiting to replace the guys who have completed their eligibility.
At defensive end, Pagan is set to become Alabama’s next big star, especially as a pass rusher. He showed that in spots last year, mostly toward the end of the year.
Square said this week Pagan has made a real effort to improve and be ready for his chance. Square said he should develop into a special player: “He’s going to be better than Damion Square.”
At the other end, Alabama returns Stinson, who was a surprise starter in 2012 but established himself as a dependable and durable player.
He had started only twice in his career before 2012 and was expected to serve as a backup. Instead, he grabbed a first-team spot in preseason practice and started all 14 games, one of only four Tide defensive players to do that. Square, safety Robert Lester and cornerback Deion Belue were the others.
Stinson’s 8.5 tackles for loss ranked second on the team to outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard’s 11.
As for young faces to watch, keep an eye on Fanning, a 6-foot-7, 300-pound backup who has the potential to shine. Yes, he’s the guy who body-slammed the Missouri running back during a blowout at midseason, which earned him a spot in Nick Saban’s penalty box.
After getting the expected slap on the nose, Fanning continued to learn and develop. He appeared in eight games and made four tackles, and don’t be surprised if he is Alabama’s Pagan of 2013 — the young backup who gets better and better as the season goes along.
At noseguard, Alabama has had three good ones on its past three national champions: Terrence Cody, Josh Chapman and Williams. Cody and Chapman are in the NFL, and Williams will join them after the NFL draft in April.
The two favorites to take over the position are a pair of big bodies: Ivory (6-4, 315 pounds) and Lake (6-3, 315). Ivory appeared in 13 games last season and made 22 tackles, which is only 15 fewer than Williams. It’s hard to imagine him not opening the season as the starter and Lake as the backup.
However, Lake got plenty of individual attention from Williams this past season and could give Ivory some competition. During one period of practice a day, the noseguards worked out for a few minutes on their own, and Williams always spent that time giving pointers to Lake, who appeared in eight games and made three tackles.
Among the freshmen, Liner and Allen will work at defensive end, but Paige and Robinson likely will get a shot at noseguard. Those two have a chance to grab some playing time if they show up for preseason practice in shape and not overweight.
Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter @MarkSportsStar.