Determining who is a tackle and who is an end on the Alabama defensive line can be complicated. In the Crimson Tide scheme, there are a number of big, athletic men who play on the defensive front, sometimes in a three-man look, sometimes four. And until they are lined up, it’s not easy to differentiate between ends and tackles.
For instance, last season’s starting defensive line ordinarily was A’Shawn Robinson, Jarron Reed, and Jonathan Allen, and Robinson was usually in the middle. Robinson and Reed have now departed for what should be nice careers in the National Football League. Allen (6-3, 283) returns for his senior season, and is expected to be the starter at end.
In the official depth chart that Coach Nick Saban issues twice a year (at the beginning of the season and prior to the bowl game), Robinson and Reed were listed as No. 1 at the two end spots with Allen listed behind Robinson. Robinson and Reed started every game and Allen started 11. The official depth chart listed now-graduated Darren Lake as the No. 1 nose tackle, but Lake started only one game in 2015, the season-opener against Wisconsin.
In our series on each Alabama position prior to the start of spring practice (on or about March 11, leading to the A-Day Game April 16), here is a look at what might be happening at nose tackle.
Last year as a true freshman Da’Ron Payne (6-2, 315), who was listed as the back-up to Lake, played in every game and had three starts – three important starts, against Arkansas, LSU, and Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship game. He finished the season with 13 tackles, including being in on one sack, had a quarterback pressure, broke up one pass, and caused a fumble.
Joshua Frazier, a 6-4, 315-pound upcoming junior, was listed as No. 3 at nose tackle on that pre-bowl depth chart. He has been a back-up at nose tackle the past two years and has five tackles in 12 games.
O.J. Smith, a 6-2, 308-pound third-year sophomore, had a redshirt season in 2014 and was coming off injury last season, seeing very limited action.
There is always the possibility that one of the men listed as a defensive end could be an inside player, but those three appear to be the men who will be working under Bo Davis at nose tackle in the spring.
Bama will add some tackles when the 2016 signing class arrives for fall camp. The Tide signed five-star Kendell Jones (6-5, 365) and four-stars Raekwon Davis (6-7, 325) and Quinnen Williams (6-4, 270).
NEXT: An examination of the defensive end prospects as Alabama approaches the start of spring practice.