Crimson Tide in the NFL: More defensive linemen making impacts off the bench
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Our countdown of former Alabama players in the NFL returns to the defensive side of the ball. After taking a short break from the defensive line, we return one of Alabama’s biggest strengths in the last decade to focus on three players that look like they will be coming off the bench in 2015. All three of these former Tide linemen made big impacts while in Tuscaloosa and have taken very different paths to where they are now. Yet, all three will be working toward the same thing this year: playing time and a contract extension.
Wallace Gilberry, Cincinnati Bengals, Defensive End
6’2″, 270 pounds
1 year, $2.05 million
Wallace Gilberry has come a long way since being cut by the New York Giants after going undrafted in 2008. The eight-year NFL veteran is now entering his fourth season with the Bengals and started all 16 games for them in 2014. This season may bring more competition on the defensive line but Gilberry has come too long to give up his starting job without a fight. Cincinnati brings back defensive end Michael Johnson, the man that Gilberry originally played behind for the Bengals. Gilberry never seemed to mind though. As a back up, he racked up 48 tackles, 15 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries in his first two seasons while playing off the bench. However, when the former Alabama standout took over the starting role, it almost seemed like he wasn’t ready to handle it by himself. He was slow off the line and wasn’t explosive, especially late in games. In 2014, Gilberry finished with 48 total tackles in 16 games but just 1.5 sacks and 1 fumble recovery. Gilberry didn’t see playing time in the Bengals’ preseason opener against the Giants last week and he isn’t expected to see much until the real season begins.
Damion Square, San Diego Chargers, Nose Tackle
6’2″, 293 pounds
1 years, $585K
Damion Square started 32 games in his career at Alabama and was one of the biggest voices on the national championship defenses in 2011 and 2012. Square went undrafted in the 2013 NFL Draft but was signed by the Eagles and ended up playing in 10 games for Philadelphia, recording just five tackles and a pass deflection. Square was waived by the Eagles just before the 2014 season and picked up by Kansas City for three months before being waived again without playing in a game. San Diego claimed him off waivers after just three days but he still didn’t see any game action last season. Square will now have to find a way to prove himself to the Chargers in order to keep a roster spot in September. Square is currently listed as the Chargers’ number three nose tackle but the defensive line depth isn’t strong. Square’s experience at all positions on the line could help him gain that roster spot.
Jesse Williams, Seattle Seahawks, Defensive Tackle
6’3″, 325 pounds
1 year, $435K
Jesse Williams has seemed to follow along the winning path during his football times in the United States. The Australia-native won two championships in his two years with Alabama and then was drafted in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the Seahawks. In his first season in Seattle, the team won the Super Bowl and could have won another last season. Jesse Williams did spend all of his two NFL seasons on the injured reserve but he was still on a winning team. Williams even decided that winning on the football field wasn’t enough. In May, he was diagnosed with Papillary Type 2 cancer. Just three short months later, Williams beat the cancer with the help of a surgery and has returned to the practice field, ready to fight for another championship. The Seahawks currently list the former Alabama nose guard as the number four left defensive tackle, which could be seen as the seventh overall defensive tackle. Seattle will more than likely take four, maybe five, defensive tackles into the regular season so Williams will have to show something to gain the roster spot. One thing is for sure: Williams can always provide inspiration and a great story around the locker room. That may be a good enough reason for Pete Carroll and the Seahawks to give him a chance in 2015.
Caleb Turrentine is a contributor at Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter,@CalebTurrentine.