Alabama will lose two defensive linemen to next year’s NFL Draft and possibly three after this season.
Justin Eboigbe, a senior, could return for a fifth season after suffering a neck injury, but we will see what he does.
The Crimson Tide has several talented young players that need to be developed. Damon Payne Jr., a redshirt freshman, is one of those athletes on the defensive front. The 6-foot-4, 303-pounder came to Tuscaloosa (Ala.) from Michigan in the Tide’s No. 1 signing class for 2021. Payne was arguably one of the top prospects in the nation for a defensive tackle, and he chose Alabama over several schools — including Michigan and Ohio State. After redshirting his freshman year, he has rotated into five games during his second season. Payne earned his most playing time against Mississippi State and totaled three tackles, but he received a confidence boost versus Austin Peay. He collected his first fumble recovery last week at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Alabama’s shutout victory over the Governors. Payne’s teammates celebrated him while he was on the ground excited about the moment.
His teammates enjoyed his touchdown celebration so much, they discussed it with reporters on Monday.
“At first I did not know what was going on,” Crimson Tide linebacker Will Anderson said about Payne’s celebration. “I was in shock. I did not know what he was doing down there. It was like he was swimming backward. It was funny, but to see the excitement on the sideline, the excitement from the older guys, how proud they were of him, how Byron Young and DJ Dale got out there and cheered for him, that is what it is all about. It is making sure those younger guys have the foundation.”
Anderson wants Payne to know the veterans for Alabama football have his back.
DJ Dale, a senior defensive lineman, said it felt good seeing the team’s excitement for Payne.
“We are brothers,” he said. “When he recovered the fumble, you could see how everyone was happy on the video. He did the funny, weird celebration, but I don’t know where that came from. I hope it helped with his confidence and shows that everyone is behind him.”
Payne is one of several defensive players that should see increased action for Alabama against Auburn and in the bowl game.
He needs to be prepared for a marquee role next season.
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