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Alabama football: Six-man race to replace Da’Ron Payne at defensive tackle

Alabama DE Quinnen Williams (No. 92) in warmups prior to 2017 CFP title game versus Clemson: Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

After starting three seasons at defensive tackle at the University of Alabama, Da’Ron Payne is projected a first-round pick for the upcoming NFL Draft. A native of Birmingham, Ala., the former five-star prospect totaled 102 career tackles – including 52 last season and led the team with eight quarterback hurries. He was a pivotal factor behind two College Football Playoff National Championships and earned first team All-SEC honors due to his efforts in 2017. 

Even more than its defensive backfield, finding a replacement for Payne at nose tackle has been a mystery thus far for the Crimson Tide in spring practice. During Nick Saban presser on Tuesday, he listed a few guys that the coaching staff is noticing as potential standouts. 

Johnny Dwight returns in the fall as a redshirt senior. A name from the 2014 recruiting cycle, Dwight was one of the nation’s top interior lineman but has experimented at tight end too. 

Last season, he was Payne’s backup at nose tackle and totaled nine stops, including 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack.

The 6-foot-3, 301-pounder has experience and is the leader in the clubhouse for the spot. 

Should Dwight not pan out, sources confirmed with Touchdown Alabama Magazine on how Phidarian Mathis dominated in practice last season and so far in spring.

Hailing from Monroe, La., the product of Neville High School was listed at No. 37 on the ESPN 300 recruiting network – prior to arriving at Tuscaloosa in 2017.

He redshirted his freshman year, but now the 308-pound wreaking ball is prepared.

Mathis, a four-star recruit, stands at 6-foot-4 (two inches taller than Payne) and possesses a lot of speed, power and leg drive in creating plays. 

He collected 41 tackles, 12 for loss and six sacks in his senior year at Neville. 

The duo of Stephen Wynn and Christian Barmore could be interesting, if both carve out a role in the rotation. While both guys carry 300-pound frames, Wynn is an early enrollee that participated in Alabama’s offseason program and will suit up for A-Day on Saturday, April 21. 

Coming from Anderson, S.C., Wynn turned in 23 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks during his tenure at T.L. Hannah High School. He spent his senior year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., before committing to the Tide as a four-star defensive end.  

In terms of recent conversations, Quinnen Williams’ name has risen as the ideal choice at defensive tackle. Rumors have sparked about how much the coaches like him and the respect he has gained from his teammates.

Former Tide player Jonathan Allen shared a lot of positive things on Williams at the time of his NFL Draft process. The Birmingham, Ala., native has gotten comparisons to Allen and things started to open up for him last season. He was credited with 20 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss (fourth on team), two sacks and three quarterback hurries.  

If all else fails, the Tide signed a junior college transfer in Tevita Musika from College of San Mateo in California for the fall. Per his Hudl account, Musika is 6’2″ and 330 pounds. Upon his watching his film, Alabama fans may draw comparisons to Nick Gentry, Jesse Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson – seeing his abilities in two-gap defending, run support and creating pressure. 

It will be difficult to replace Payne, but all six guys are vying for that spot. In this edition of “In My Own Words,” yours truly dives into the potential replacements at defensive tackle.

Who replaces Da'Ron Payne at DT at Alabama?

Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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