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3 position groups for Alabama football with the most to prove in the fall

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Nick Saban retirement from coaching the Alabama football program has returned it to where it was upon his arrival in 2007.

Alabama has something to prove again, and the hunger is here like never before.

Some expect a massive drop for the Crimson Tide under Kalen DeBoer; however, most look for him to succeed. The players are taking this season personal, especially after having three straight years without a national championship.

Alabama has a few holdovers from its 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship squad — including Malachi Moore, Tim Smith, Jah-Marien Latham, and Quandarrius Robinson — but much of the team does not understand the significance of a national title. 

RELATED: WATCH: Alabama QB Jalen Milroe working on throwing motion, footwork

In the Saban era, Alabama had different position groups that took ownership of the team.

The linebacker room with names such as Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, and C.J. Mosley were pivotal in the Tide’s BCS national titles for 2009, 2011, and 2012. Alabama’s defensive line took over in 2015 and 2017 as players such as Jonathan Allen, A’Shawn Robinson, Jarrran Reed, Da’Ron Payne, Dalvin Tomlinson, Quinnen Williams, Ryan Anderson, and Tim Williams harassed opposing offenses — helping Alabama to CFP National Championships in 2015 and 2017. Those groups had something to prove, yet this Tide team has a few positional units that must step up if Alabama wants to be victors again.

Below are three position groups for the Tide that need to emerge in the fall.

1. Defensive Line

Freddie Roach is an elite recruiter in his fifth season as Alabama’s defensive line coach.

The Florence (Ala.) native and former Crimson Tide linebacker has gotten better each year with the big men up front, but Roach now needs a breakout campaign from several linemen.

Christian Barmore, Phidarian “Phil” Mathis, Byron Young, D.J. Dale, and Justin Eboigbe all benefitted from Roach. Each one received an opportunity in the National Football League, and Barmore led Alabama in sacks (eight) during its 2020 national championship run. Roach has depth on the defensive line as Tim Kennan III, Jeheim Oatis, Tim Smith, and Jah-Marien Latham all have playing experience. Damon Payne has experience, and the Tide has talented youth with Jordan Renaud, Edric Hill, Keon Keeley, Hunter Osborne, James Smith, Isaia Faga, Jeremiah Beaman, and Steve Bolo Mboumoua. LT Overton, a transfer from Texas A&M, is also on the roster and can be a marquee playmaker.

Kane Wommack runs a 4-2-5 defensive scheme, but the only way it works is having an attacking defensive line. 

The performances of the defensive line made Alabama a championship team in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017, and 2020.

Alabama had multiple players on those teams or at least one guy that would wreak shop up front.

RELATED: 3 reasons why this transfer Alabama DB will be pivotal to Crimson Tide’s success

Roach has to produce that athlete or multiple ones like this for Wommack’s defense to have the success it needs. The Tide has not had a game wrecker up front since Christian Barmore or a first-round pick off its defensive line since Quinnen Williams. 

Now is the time for Alabama’s defensive front to step up.

2. Offensive Line

Alabama’s offensive line was not elite under Doug Marrone and Eric Wolford.

The Tide allowed 44 sacks of Jalen Milroe in 2023 and that is unacceptable.

Some came from him holding the ball too long, but the majority was the front line failing to communicate and poor pass protection.

Chris Kapilovic comes to Alabama from his recent success at North Carolina, Colorado, and Michigan State to help the Tide. He initially took the offensive line job at Baylor University on Dec. 12, 2023, but he ended up leaving to join Kalen DeBoer at Alabama. He inherits experience with Tyler Booker and Jaeden Roberts at both guard positions. Both are exceptional run blockers that also impose their will in pass protection.

Kadyn Proctor, a former five-star, made the Freshman All-SEC team last seasons, but he transferred from the Tide to Iowa. Proctor chose to return to Tuscaloosa (Ala.) and the team is happy to have him.

He is expected to slide in at left tackle as a second-year starter. Parker Brailsford, a transfer from Washington, will start at center for the Tide after helping the Huskies win the Joe Moore Award in 2023. The right tackle position will be interesting as Elijah Pritchett, Wilkin Formby, Miles McVay, Naquil Betrand (transfer from Texas A&M), and Geno VanDeMark (transfer from Michigan State) will compete for it. Alabama has not won the Joe Moore Award since 2020, but this offensive unit has the potential to win under Kapilovic. It has to be dominant in run-blocking and pass-blocking if it wants a championship.

3. Wide Receivers

Alabama has good wide receivers, but none of them have proven themselves.

People are concerned about the receiver room, especially after seeing what the Crimson Tide produced in the past.

Kobe Prentice returns with experience, but this a chance for JaMarcus Shephard — Alabama’s wide receivers coach — to show college football how good this room is. Germie Bernard, Kendrick Law, Emmanuel Henderson, Jaren Hamilton, Cole Adams, and Jalen Hale (recovering from knee injury) need the ball in their hands. Bernard, a transfer from Washington, showed in the spring game that he’s the next transfer offensive weapon to be big time for the Tide.

He totaled 122 yards receiving on three catches.

Alabama also has freshmen such as Caleb Odom, Ryan Williams, Rico Scott, Aeryn “Bubba” Hampton, and Amari Jefferson that may be really good for the team. Coach DeBoer could have a pass-happy offense, but it starts with this group of targets proving themselves. If this unit steps up, Alabama will have the top offense in college football.

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Stephen M. Smith is the 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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