Next man up is a popular phrase in Tuscaloosa, Ala., however, it becomes difficult to expect that in football when one has to replace Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson on the defensive line.
The two along with Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams were the leaders behind some astronomical numbers in the last two seasons, including 106 sacks, 56 turnovers and 15 touchdowns.
Despite the four and five-stars competing this spring and returning in the fall, questions on will this year’s group be just as effective are appropriate at this juncture. Even for the man who has coached this team to four national championships, Nick Saban could only drop a few names that have the potential to anchor this unit.
“I don’t know,” Saban said on Tuesday. “Isaiah Buggs could be a good player. Da’Shawn Hand has been a good player. Da’Ron Payne’s played a lot of football around here for two years and has done well. Raekwon Davis played some last year and Josh Frazier has played a bit.”
As for redshirt freshman Quinnen Williams and the Crimson Tide’s 2017 signees, Saban said Williams will have to play some and that all need to get better and improve.
“We’ve played with worse,” he said. “I don’t compare anything to anything. We could have said when Dont’a Hightower and Rolando McClain were the two inside ‘backers’ and when they left, we would compare them to the next guys. Well, that’s not fair to the next guys. And it’s not fair to compare these guys to the ones we had last year or ones we had before. They have to develop and identity of their own as a unit and as individuals.”
Numbers wise, Da’Shawn Hand and Da’Ron Payne are the new leaders.
Hand has recorded 44 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks in three seasons, while Payne has 49 career tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks. Alabama’s journey back to a Southeastern Conference championship game and possibly the College Football Playoff will be decided on its front line.