Welcome back! In this segment of the Lighthouse’s 2013 spring previews, the Lighthouse will shine our attention on the revamped Alabama defensive line. In the upcoming season, the Tide’s defensive line will be very, very young but it will also be a tremendously talented group – many say this may be the most talented group that Saban has had during his time at Alabama. Gone are the big bodied studs such as Damion Square, Quinton Dial and Jesse Williams and they will be replaced by slightly smaller, quicker and more athletic defenders. However, in a Saban/Smart defense size has always mattered so it will be interesting this spring to see how the young ends such as Jeoffrey Pagan, LaMichael Fanning, Korren Kirven, Dakota Ball and Dalvin Tomlinson can hold the point of attack. Stopping the run is priority #1 for Alabama’s D so losing the girth and strength at the defensive end positions must be overcome. However, it does appear that between big uns like Brandon Ivory and Darren Lake the center of the Tide defense should be just as good as ever (and that’s saying a lot after Cody, Chapman and Williams). Let’s take a look at the defensive line cast and see how they project towards the 2013 season…
Brandon Ivory – 6’4, 315 Junior
When Todd McShay calls you out after watching tape, you know you are doing something right. When the player he’s calling out is a backup player, then you have just popped right off the screen. Such is the case for big Brandon Ivory. Ivory spent some time backing up Jesse Williams but he actually spent the majority of his time as a starter in the goal line and short yardage defense. Ivory lined up next to Williams on the interior of the line and he absolutely dominated in this alignment. Ivory was either responsible or played a key role in numerous short yardage stops against Tennessee, LSU and Georgia and, he made numerous other plays as well. The key to Ivory’s success is his crazy “get off” or his quickness off the ball. As soon as the ball is snapped, Ivory is at least half a step ahead of the offensive linemen which allows him to quickly impose his will against poorly leveraged guards and centers. When you can turn 315+ pounds into a quick, decisive force that’s when you see a dominating defensive lineman and that’s exactly what McShay saw on film. Ivory has come a looooong way since his freshman year and as a result the nose should be in very good hands in 2013.
Darren Lake – 6’3, 315 Sophomore
Last season Darren Lake was forced into action as a true freshman due to a lack of bodies at the nose and because Williams and Ivory sustained a couple of minor injuries. The first think you notice about Lake is his immense size. While the roster lists this big man at 315, he sure looked like he carried a lot more than this to the table last season. Unfortunately, size alone does not a nose tackle make but Lake did continue to make strides during the season as he gained more and more experience. The word is that Lake is actually now pushing Ivory very hard as the 4th quarter program served him well and I’d think it’s a certainty that Lake will, at minimum, play the role that Ivory did last season in short yardage and goal line defenses. We look for Lake to play a pretty significant role both as a valuable time-sharing backup as well as critical short yardage situations.
A’Shawn Robinson – 6’5, 302 True Freshman
As last season showed us with Darren Lake, the Alabama defense is typically going to utilize at least three different men at the nose position so all eyes will be on A’Shawn Robinson to see if he’ll be physically up to the task as a true freshman. Chris Rumph identified Robinson as “his guy” and recruited him heavily to get him to play the interior of the Bama line. Robinson’s credentials are nearly as large as his frame. A’shawn was rated as a five-star player by most of the recruiting services and has shown enough athleticism to actually project on either side of the ball. However, Rumph staked his claim to this big ‘un early and often so Robinson’s first chance for playing time will be at the nose tackle position. Robinson will not enroll until the summer so he will not have the benefit of going thru spring drills but due to a bit of a shortage at the NT position, he may get into the rotation at the nose.
Ed Stinson – 6’4, 282 Senior
Stinson’s body has transformed from a 245 lb freshman Jack linebacker to a 280+ lb senior defensive end and he will be counted on heavily to anchor the end against the running game. On last year’s film, Stinson was, at times, pushed around a little more than some of the previous larger ends but his athleticism as a former Jack linebacker did serve him well. Last year he showed off his athleticism at the position by garnering 8.5 tackles for loss (second on the team in TFL) so you can tell that he’s adept using his quickness to get into the backfield. However, this spring and fall it’s vital for Stinson to be as big and as strong as possible so that he can perform his run stopping role as a starting DE. Watch Stinson closely during A-Day to see how well he holds the point and keeps his feet – this will tell you if he’s going to be pushed by someone at this position.
Jeoffrey Pagan – 6’4, 285 Junior
Off the hoof, Pagan is VERY impressive. This is just a very cut and defined looking human being. With Alabama substituting fairly regularly along the DL, Pagan played a good deal of snaps last season and typically showed the ability to hold the point against the running game. Pagan has outstanding potential and this spring he will have to show the staff that he can turn that immense potential into a starting caliber defensive end. All indications are that Pagan will be just fine in his new role as a starter and, between Pagan and Stinson, Bama will have two of the more athletic ends they’ve had in a while. Again, the question will be their ability to hold the point and not get pushed at the line of scrimmage. We’ll be keeping our eye on this during A-Day…
Xzavier Dickson – 6’3, 262 Junior
I’m a big fan of Dickson and last season I thought he was a bit underrated as a rushing outside linebacker. Oftentimes Dickson’s pressure forced the QBs to move in the pocket and sometimes that can be just as good or better than a sack. This season, Dickson is shuttling back and forth between his outside linebacker position and the defensive end position. It’s likely that you could see Dickson become a speed rushing end in nickel and dime situations as a part of the vaunted rabbits package. To me, Dickson certainly has shown the ability to cause pressure so it will be interesting to see where he lands between LB and DE. Over the past few years, Saban and Smart have utilized four man fronts to combat the numerous spread offenses and with the likes of Johnny Manziel lurking out there, this may be a move to get a more athletic look at the DE position. Again, this is something for us to watch during A-Day to see where Dickson lines up. While Saban & Co won’t be showing any wrinkles, if Dickson lines up at DE the majority of the time then that likely tells us that he’ll be there in the fall (and Denzell Devall will take his old spot as an OLB).
LaMichael Fanning – 6’7, 295 Sophomore
Fanning is a beast, pure and simple – just ask the Missouri tailback who Fanning suplexed in Columbia last season. While the announcers railed on him for such a dirty play, my mouth was agape as I simply could not believe what I just saw. When a man who is 6’7 lifts your carcass into the air, you are going to come down with some authority and that poor Tiger didn’t exactly land on all fours. That gives you some idea of the immense talent that Fanning possesses and it also gives you a little indication about perhaps why he sometimes seems to be on the outside of the rotation looking in. Tidesports’ depth chart lists Mr Fanning as Ed Stinson’s backup and with the rotation up front we should see many more opportunities for Fanning to make us say “holy…….!”
Dalvin Tomlinson – 6’2, 266 Redshirt Freshman
I’ll likely go back to these previews and shake my head at the number of “I love this guy” references but I am so excited about watching Tomlinson play this coming season. After sustaining a torn ACL last season before fall practice ever started, rumor had it that Tomlinson was actually pushing hard for playing time towards the latter part of the season and Tidesports currently lists him as the backup to Pagan at DE. Tomlinson was disruptive on the scout team and displayed a very strong low center of gravity that allowed him to create problems for the opposing linemen. The thing I love about Dalvin is that he’s a former Georgia heavyweight high school wrestling champion. Want an idea of what that looks like? Check out this You Tube video and tell me “Are you not entertained?” This quickness and strength with his hands will serve him very well in the trenches (He’s the one on the right and finished his wrestling season 49-0. Don’t blink.):
Dakota Ball – 6’2, 295 Redshirt Freshman
This will be an interesting spring for Ball because the competition is pretty wide open for getting into the DE rotation. While Pagan, Fanning and Tomlinson are listed ahead of him, this spring will be an opportunity for Ball to stake a claim for playing time before Liner and Paige will have a chance to enroll. Ball’s calling card is a relentless motor and you know that goes over pretty well with the Tide coaching staff. Again, it’s a big spring for Dakota so we’ll be interested to see how he performs during A-Day – you do have to like the fact that he’s one of the bigger DE’s on the team.
Chris Bonds – 6’4, 273 Senior
At this point, Bonds appears to be on the outside looking in at the younger guys on the roster who are passing him up for playing time. Unless something drastically changes during spring drills, we don’t expect Bonds to be in the regular rotation at DE.
Korren Kirven – 6’5, 292 Redshirt Freshman
According to practice observers, the 4th quarter program was evidently very good for Mr Kirven. You may remember that this former 4-star was a last-minute get for the tide staff in the 2012 signing class and they were extremely excited to get him. Kirven redshirted last season and didn’t create quite the buzz that Tomlinson did on the scout team. Kirven has all the potential in the world so this will be a critical spring for him, as well, as he also attempts to create some separation from Liner and Paige before they can get to campus.
Wilson Love – 6’3, 281 Sophomore
There is not much of a buzz around Love so I’m curious to see what happens with him this spring. As you look at the list of talented players above his name, it’s hard to imagine him in the rotation at this point.
Dee Liner – 6’2, 277 True Freshman
What an interesting ride it’s been for the recruit with one of the best names in all of college football. Dee Liner plays D-Line, of course, and Alabama’s staff relentlessly pursued him even after he committed to Auburn, got in trouble with the law and got into trouble with the law yet again. While his transgressions were relatively minor, there were plenty of red flags to dissuade the Tide coaches from recruiting this big man. That should tell you just how special he is supposed to be. In talking with some locals, it’s said that Liner was the most dominating defensive lineman they have ever seen in high school football and that is why Saban has had such a crush on him. However, in watching him in the Alabama v Mississippi All Star game and again in the Under Armor All American game, I simply didn’t see it. I’m not saying it’s not there, I’m just saying that his motor didn’t appear to be engaged during those two games. With Liner enrolling in the fall, it will be interesting to see how quickly he is able to get into the rotation at DE. If he is what the locals say he is, look for him to contribute this season and not to redshirt.
Darius Paige – 6’4, 285 True Freshman
Darius Paige is one of the kids who may have some issues enrolling in the fall as it appears he still needs the appropriate ACT score to get into Alabama. That being said, Paige is a kid that I saw play in the Alabama v Mississippi All Star game and also in the Semper Fi All Star game and this kid’s motor never stopped. At 6’4, 285 he actually seemed to play bigger than that. He dominated the practices at the AL v MS game and was voted the strongest player on either team. I can tell you that the two times I watched him play, he certainly plays big and plays strong. If he makes it into school, Paige has the size, strength and motor to be a contributor this season.
Look back up at the ridiculous list of names and talents at the DE position. All of these kids were highly decorated high school players and all have the measurables that make Big 10 coaches weep at night. The interesting thing about this list is that NONE of the defensive ends weigh in at over 300 lbs which is somewhat of a departure from the usual Saban 3-4 DEs. Guys like Dareus, Deaderick, Square, Dial, were all 290+ so it’s a bit interesting to me to see Stinson at 282 and Pagan at 285 listed as starters. We at the Lighthouse believe that with Alabama playing more and more four man fronts against the spread offenses out there, this could be a small philosophy change by the Tide staff. Instead of employing thick bodied fire hydrants at the end positions, it looks as though the staff is recruiting for a more athletic looking front four. It should be a fun spring to watch these guys battle it out and A-Day will be particularly interesting as we watch them do battle against Alabama’s new offensive line.