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Early spring practice positional battles: Who wins the starting defensive tackle job for Alabama?

DJ Dale (No. 94) working the sled at Alabama practice in 2020 season
Photo by Kent Gidley of Alabama Athletics

Spring practice begins next month for Alabama football.

Crimson Tide fans are ready to see their team make a return to the College Football Playoff National Championship stage, but the work starts in March and April. Nick Saban has graduated a lot of experience to the NFL Draft, but the Tide has retooled its deck of players and coaches.

RELATED: Early spring practice positional battles: Who wins backup QB job between Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson?

The staff at Touchdown Alabama Magazine is getting everyone prepared for spring football with a new series.

We will be highlighting early spring positions battles and which players will earn starting roles. After looking at the backup quarterback role, we now switch to defense. We dissect the defensive tackle position for spring ball.

DJ Dale

DJ Dale returns with the most experience at the defensive tackle position.

He showed immense potential as a freshman, totaling 17 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, one quarterback hurry, and one fumble recovery. A knee injury caused him to miss the final three games of 2019, but he was effective. Dale has had issues with his knee in his career, but the Birmingham (Ala.) native flashed big plays in 2021. He posted two sacks, four tackles for loss, one quarterback hurry, and 18 tackles as a junior. The 6-foot-3, 300-pounder is back for his senior season, and he can have a successful campaign if he stays healthy and plays violently.

Tim Smith

Tim Smith earned significant playing time in 2020.

His freshman season ended with 14 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss, one sack, one quarterback hurry, one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. Some Alabama fans felt he should have started over Dale in 2021 at nose tackle. The 6-foot-4, 308-pounder arrived as a five-star prospect from Gifford, Fla. Smith played all 15 games – two starts – last year and tallied 24 tackles, four tackles for loss, and one pass breakup. He has the make-up to be very disruptive and create problems.

RELATED: Joe Cox officially announced as the new TE coach for Alabama

Smith has a higher ceiling than Dale, but can he supplant the senior? Spring practice is going to be pivotal for Smith.

Jah-Marien Latham

Jah-Marien Latham has the size of a defensive end but the physicality of a nose tackle.

He entered the Crimson Tide’s program as an elite in-state talent from Pickens County High School in 2020. Latham dominated 1A football, amassing 69 tackles, 27 stops for loss, and eight sacks in his senior year with the Tornadoes. He has played in five games across two years at Alabama, but Latham produced good numbers in the 2021 A-Day matchup in Tuscaloosa.

RELATED: Top 10 passing plays for Alabama football from the 2021 season

Coach Saban likes to cross-train defensive linemen.

Latham has the profile for an end, but he provides nightmares in the middle for offensive guards and centers. 

Jahmil Burroughs

Jahmil Burroughs came from Georgia as a powerful defensive lineman in 2020.

He played in six games as a freshman, but Burroughs played three matchups last year. 

The 6-foot-3, 312-pounder has a skill set to stop the run and pressure quarterbacks. He came in the same class with Latham and Smith. Burroughs garnered some attention, but he is ready to show the college football world what he can do. Veterans will anchor Alabama’s defensive tackle rotation. Burroughs will get an opportunity in practice to prove himself.

Young names to watch

-Tim Kennan III

-Damon Payne

-Anquin Barnes

-Jaheim Oatis

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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.

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