This has been the most injury-stricken team under Nick Saban in his 11 years coaching at the University of Alabama, but all the mishaps have yet to become a detriment as of late.
Thoughts of hitting the panic button happened after losing linebackers Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis for the season; however, the Crimson Tide forged on.
During the absence of Rashaan Evans, Anfernee Jennings and Dylan Moses, Saban and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt trusted a lot of young players to emerge and all answered the call to the best they could.
Removing his recruitment status, capabilities and potential from the discussion, senior Da’Shawn Hand has not lived up to his five-star billing.
Much of it comes from him playing behind A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, Dalvin Tomlinson and Jonathan Allen; nevertheless, he’s managed to total just 11 tackles through five games as a leader on the Tide’s front line.
Should Hand’s MCL strain (knee) had occurred to junior defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne, the situation would be more serious. The Birmingham native has been highly productive with 23 tackles (shares team lead), despite encountering multiple double-teams from opponents.
While Johnny Dwight stands as the lone substitution for Payne, there are six players that can assume Hand’s role on the edge – including junior college transfer, Isaiah Buggs.
He was projected second team defensive end on the depth before the year started, but will now see more action as the Virginia native continues to heal.
Buggs has come on strong as of late, especially against Vanderbilt and Mississippi — where he combined for six total tackles while sharing a tackle for loss, sharing a sack and posting two quarterback hurries.
In Alabama’s conference opener against Vandy, Buggs started to feel more comfortable.
He collected three tackles and was in on a multitude of plays where the Crimson Tide’s front affected quarterback Kyle Shurmur in the pocket. The 6-foot-5, 293-pounder assisted his team in shutting the Commodores off the scoreboard, and rendering its offense to just 78 yards.
For a Rebels attack that is predicated upon totaling 400 yards offensively, Buggs helped Alabama’s defense limited it to 253 yards and frustrated Shea Patterson all game long.
Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Jarran Reed is someone that Buggs is starting to draw comparisons to.
Reed, who played under Nick Saban in 2014 and 2015, attended East Mississippi Community College in 2012 and 2013 before signing with the Tide.
He had a rough start, but would quickly adjust and became a dominant figure on the program’s 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship team.
Following the season, Reed was selected in the second round (No. 49 overall pick) of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Size is one factor Buggs has over Reed.
At 311 pounds, Reed makes for an exceptional two-gap run stopper but not an effective pass rusher. Buggs, on the other hand, is 18 pounds lighter and with next to no body fat, he can excel against both run and pass. Once a four-star prospect from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, he amassed 134 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 2015 and 2016.
Spoiling a home game for Texas A&M will be Buggs’ assignment this week.