Three of those players are returning starters across the defensive front. And the fourth is a true sophomore with a promising career ahead. "Kenny King, Kindal Moorehead and Nautyn (McKay-Loescher) played hard and were pretty consistent (during spring work)," Eggen said. "Those were three that were out there every day, competing every down. Jarrett Johnson would be right there, but he missed a week of practice. I just need to see more of him on the field this fall in order to say definitely that he's a guy that can do it."
Don't think that Eggen isn't generally happy with his athletes' physical gifts, because that isn't the case at all. In fact he and Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush are frankly excited about the speed and athleticism of the unit, especially at defensive end. But to impress a veteran coach like Eggen, a player has to prove he can bring maximum effort on every play. Athletes that take downs off in the SEC end up sitting down on the bench.
"I saw flashes of promise from a lot of guys," Eggen said. "Some of the other players took steps, but they haven't yet shown the consistency that we demand."
Not at all surprisingly, three of the four players he named ‘just happen' to be listed as starters for the Tide. Moorehead is No. 1 at right end, King fills that role on the other side and Johnson is back starting at left tackle.
Of the returning D-Line starters for Alabama, Kindal Moorehead's health is probably the biggest concern. After two excellent seasons in Crimson, the Memphis native was named to most pre-season All-SEC lists heading into last season. But a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered just before the opening game cut short that promise. And Moorehead's injury was frankly a blow from which the Tide defense never recovered.
But after surgery to repair the torn tendon, Moorehead threw himself into his rehab. And thankfully he showed few if any lingering effects during spring contact. "Kindal proved that he could handle it," Eggen said. "He's back.
"Every day for him helped his confidence, driving and pushing off on that leg. He was held out of all workouts in the indoor facility before spring drills, because we didn't want to strain anything. But he worked on the carpet for several practices during spring and was able to go again the day after."
A healthy Moorehead elevates Alabama to the next level, and one pre-season magazine rated the Tide's defensive line best in the nation. Whether that ranking is accurate remains to be seen, but Moorehead's availability to occasionally slide inside on passing downs will be invaluable to the Tide this season.
Another defensive end with health questions to answer, Kenny King's problems with shoulder ‘stingers' also seem to be much improved. Both King and his coaches believe he's in good shape heading into the fall. "His shoulder held up fine," Eggen related. "I feel confident that Kenny is going to be OK. There were a couple of times when he'd look to make sure everything was still there, but each day helped him with his confidence, knowing that he could come out on the field and withstand the blows. The shoulder withstood the wear and tear.
"Plus, I think he's stronger right now because of the off-season program. That helped him and will continue to help him in the fall."
Chronic problems with that shoulder kept King out of three of Bama's last four games in 2000. But the Daphne native still finished with 42 tackles (four behind the line) and 1.5 sacks for the season. And his 27 quarterback pressures led the team. And again like Moorehead, King will be called on this year to work some on the inside to alleviate depth problems at tackle.
With both Moorehead and King healthy, junior Jarrett Johnson is able to move back inside to what is his more natural position. A strong athlete with good speed, Johnson can play at defensive end but his quickness and foot-speed could allow him to have a big year on the inside.
The native of Chiefland, Florida started every game in 2000 for the Tide, finishing as the second leading tackler among down linemen with 64. And he led the squad in both tackles behind the line (14) and quarterback sacks (seven). "Jarrett plays with a good pad level," Eggen explained. "He's an active player. He's got good strength. Those things indicate he can be effective at tackle.
"In our scheme we're looking for guys that can move and do things. It's not like you can be a guy to just stand in there and take a pounding. We want our players to be active."
Johnson, Moorehead and King provide Alabama with a solid core of experienced starters up front. And when McKay-Loescher, a third athlete whose motor never stops, is thrown into the mix, the picture improves even more. But with players like Antwan Odom, Shawn Oglesby, Aries Monroe, David Daniel and Anthony Bryant also on the roster, Coach Eggen frankly isn't satisfied with being simply good.
Alabama's feisty D-Line coach wants a unit that can dominate. And to accomplish that goal his frontline players have got to have some help. "As far as our athletes being recovered and those top few players, I feel pretty good," Eggen stated. "We've just got to bring some more guys to the party."