Editor’s note: In advance of Alabama’s A-Day spring scrimmage, SEC Country is highlighting one storyline of note each day to help prepare fans for the culmination of spring practice. Thursday’s entry focuses on a position group with depth issues. Wednesday’s story spotlighted which skill players will step up.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Along with Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, Alabama rode its defensive front to its fourth national championship in seven years last season.
But a lot of that group is gone, including Reggie Ragland, A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed among others.
Alabama won’t have the same amount of experienced depth along the defensive line it enjoyed last season. Making matters worse, Jonathan Allen (shoulder) has been limited all spring practice, and Da’Shawn Hand (back spasms) has been banged up lately. Hand returned to practice on Tuesday after taking a couple of days off, including the second scrimmage. If Hand can’t go on A-Day, Daron Payne and Dalvin Tomlinson will be the only two players who had roles last season.
After last Saturday’s scrimmage, Saban said he was “hopeful” to get Hand back for the rest of spring and A-Day.
“It’s always hard to judge that. This is not something that — the doctors have assured me, or assured us, that he doesn’t have a situation that he needs to have surgery on,” Saban said Saturday. “This will just be a thing that, when it calms down, he’ll be able to come back. We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to get him back next week, and he’ll be able to play in the A-Day game because with him and Jonathan Allen (shoulder) both out, it really makes us thin in the defensive line where we were already pretty thin to start with. So, we’re hopeful that he’ll be OK, but I can’t predict that right now.”
SCOUTING ALABAMA’S A-DAY
Names to know: Da’Shawn Hand, Daron Payne, Dalvin Tomlinson, Joshua Frazier, Johnny Dwight, O.J. Smith
What to expect: If Hand can’t go, look for guys like Frazier, Dwight and Smith to play bigger roles. A rising junior, Frazier played mostly in mop-up duty in his first two seasons on campus. Dwight spent last season as a tight end, but was moved back to the defensive line this spring. Smith missed last season with a shoulder injury.
There are also the outside linebackers who could rush from a three-point stance, such as Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson and others.
Final verdict: It’s tough to judge this group because of the injuries. The top four guys — Hand, Allen, Payne and Tomlinson — are all extremely talented with all four possessing a great blend of speed, size and power. But beyond those four, there are a lot of unknowns.
Alabama signed four defensive linemen in its 2016 recruiting class, so don’t be surprised if one or more of those guys have a big role this season with the Tide’s lack of depth up front.
- Countdown to Alabama A-Day: Which skill players are ready to break out?
- A-Day festivities begin at 9 a.m. ET this Saturday. Here’s the full schedule of events.