TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama football program made the defensive line such a priority with the recruiting Class of 2019 that the position group has a 50-50 split between veterans and newcomers.
There are six of each heading into the spring.
Just a few years ago the Crimson Tide had a ridiculous amount of quality depth on the line, including the likes of Jonathan Allen, Jarran Reed, A'Shawn Robinson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Da'Shawn Hand and Da'Ron Payne, who made it tough for some of the younger players to get significant playing time.
Consequently, restocking the roster became difficult, especially last year when Alabama was still looking to add players after the traditional recruiting time period had ended.
Nick Saban was determined not to let that happen again, and even though the Crimson Tide has to replace starters like Quinnen Williams and Isaiah Buggs the unit as a whole hasn’t looked this good (on paper at least) in a while.
“Phil Mathis is a great guy who’s going to step up next year,” Williams said. “He got a lot of experience, a lot of playing time this year, so he’s ready. He’s going to step in and fill that spot. LaBryan Ray, you’ve Stephon Wynn, Christian Barmore, just a lot of guys in general.”
Meanwhile, Alabama has added a potentially stellar group led by Antonio Alfano, one of three defensive linemen who enrolled early and are gearing themselves to contribute immediately.
“We like his work ethic,” Saban said. “He obviously has been a very productive player. We like his size.
Raekwon Davis: The lone returning starter up front had 55 tackles with 5.5 for a loss and 1.5 sacks to be named second-team All-SEC by the Associated Press. However, the previous season the coaches named him first-team after Davis had a team-high 8.5 sacks. It’ll be interesting to see how the 6-foot-7 behemoth with long arms fares with new players beside him plus a new position coach.
LaBryan Ray: When you talk about Alabama reloading, Ray may be a perfect example. He worked his way into the rotation as a freshman before suffering a season-ending foot injury, and last season played in all 15 games with one start. He was credited with 39 tackles including 5.5 for a loss and 2.5 sacks. He’s ready to step in.
Phidarian Mathis: Another big body the Crimson Tide plucked from Louisiana, the 6-foot-4, 310-pound nose tackle will inherit Williams’ position, after the Outland Trophy winner took over for Da’Ron Payne. He too is powerful, and Mathis was named to the league’s All-Freshman Team by coaches after tallying 18 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Stephon Wynn Jr.: After enrolling early, Wynn (6-4, 299) suffered a ligament injury that sidelined him for more than a month last fall. He ended up playing in just three games and was credited with three tackles. At minimum, Alabama’s counting on him to be a key part of the rotation at end.
**Christian Barmore:**There was a lot of buzz about the Philadelphia-area product late last season and teammates were quietly raving about what Barmore was doing with the scout team. He’s 6-5, 292 pounds and appears ready to be unleashed in the rotation. He’s a player to watch this spring.
Tevita Musika: The junior-college transfer was added to the roster after National Signing Day to provide needed depth at nose tackle. He played in five games and was credited with three tackles. The senior (6-1, 338) shouldf be more in the mix, especially against opponents that like to establish the run in a non-spread way.
Antonio Alfano: Every recruiting service listed Alfano as one of the best prospects in the nation, but after his performance at the All-American Bowl in San Antonio he was rated the top player in the nation by 247Sports. Of course, when the final rankings came out he was already enrolled at Alabama. At Colonia High School in New Jersey he notched 76 tackles, including 28 tackles for loss with 10 sacks, 10 quarterback hurries and six forced fumbles as a senior when also playing as an offensive lineman.
Ishmael Sopsher: Considered Alabama’s big get on National Signing Day, the Louisiana product is listed as 6-4, 334 pounds. Likely a future nose tackle in Alabama’s defense, he totaled 78 tackles, including 35 for loss with 12 sacks, with eight forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries during his senior season with Amite High School. He’ll enroll over the summer.
Justin Eboigne: Listed as 6-5, 263 pounds, there was some thought that he might end up at Jack, the hybrid defensive end/linebacker position in Saban’s scheme, or strongside linebacker. He’ll have to gain some weight if the Georgia product is going to play up front, but for now he’s listed as a defensive lineman.
Byron Young: Another big man that every team in college football coveted, but the kind who seems to thrive with the Crimson Tide. He’s listed as 6-3, 290 pounds and can move. At West Jones in Laurel, Miss., he made 125 tackles with 29.5 for loss and 17.5 sacks in 15 as a senior. His 17.5 sacks led the region.
Braylen Ingraham: Like Eboigne, Ingraham is one to watch in terms of size and position possibilities between outside linebacker and defensive end. He’s 6-4, 260 pounds coming in from St. Thomas Aquinas High School, which for years has been considered a South Florida juggernaut.
DJ Dale: Another potential future nose tackle, Dale has both size (6-3, 323 pounds) and speed, although in his case Scott Cochran’s strength and conditioning crew might be aiming to take some pounds off. Regardless, he’s another strong interior addition out of Clay-Chalkville High School in Pinson, Ala., who Williams plans to keep an eye on and help.
“The early enrollee DJ Dale, I feel like he’s a great person to come in and learn the ropes, learn the process,” Williams said. “He’s a very humble person and he’s from where I’m from, so we’ve got that same trait, that same mindset, myself and him. But he’s way bigger than me coming in.”
This is the sixth story in a series on BamaCentral: