Tatum excelled at defensive end in high school, but he was moved inside quickly after arriving on campus. "I thought he did good," Wyatt continued in his assessment of Tatum's play. "It was his first time seeing college competition. We need his athleticism on the inside. He's learning. He's got a lot of growing to do, but he took a big step forward last Saturday."
Tatum sat out last season, lifting weights and adding bulk to play tackle. He talked about his performance. "I think it went pretty good," Tatum allowed. "Even though we lost, I got my first game action. I got cut off too much and a couple of other technique details. But the details are most important. I've got to work this week, get back out there against Arkansas and try to do better."
So far Alabama has used only three linemen (per game) on the inside. Ahmad Childress, Anthony Bryant and Jeremy Clark handled the duties in the Tide's first three contests, but Clark was nursing an injured foot Saturday so Tatum got the call.
"I pretty much knew before the game that I'd be playing," Tatum said. "I had been working with the ones (first-team defense) all week in practice, so I pretty much knew.
"I'm not going to lie and say I wasn't nervous. But I got out there on the first snap and came off the ball. I told myself ‘Hey, this ain't much.' I just kept doing it, and I did alright."
Tatum played 18 snaps on defense and one on special teams. He was credited with one assisted tackle. "Afterwards I told him he did a good job," Wyatt said. "‘Keep your head up, and let's come to work next week and get better.'"
Without exception, every freshman talks about the speed of the game and how much faster college football is than high school. Tatum commented, "You're talking about a huge difference. Speed-wise there is so much difference. You've got to anchor things down inside, be a big man in the middle. You've got to play your gaps."
Playing defensive end exclusive in high school, Tatum's senior year at Prattville he totaled 95 tackles (25 for a loss), 14 sacks and three fumble recoveries. But as the saying goes, athletes play defensive end; men play down inside.
"That's it exactly," Tatum said with a chuckle. "But I hung in. I didn't face double-teams, but I got zone blocking. (NIU's) guards were pretty big and athletic. I feel like I handled them fairly well."
A former college D-Lineman himself, Wyatt works every day to get his athletes ready for the physical play at tackle. "I thought Kyle did well," Wyatt said. "All of us--not just him--we've got to get our pads down. We're playing with our pads too high.
"Kyle wasn't any worse than anybody else (last week) as far as holding up physically. That part didn't bother him. It was more the finesse stuff that got him. (The Northern Illinois blockers) cut him a lot. When they just came out and tried to block him straight up, he handled himself really well."
Tatum says he weighs 280 pounds now, and he plans on adding more weight in the off-season. "Next year 290 or 300, I want to keep building as the years go on," he said.
280 pounds is heavy enough for most down linemen, but Tatum stands a legitimate 6-6, prompting many to wonder if leverage will be a problem for him. "Low man wins," is the axiom for linemen, but Tatum doesn't worry.
"It's not that big of a deal," Tatum said. "People can say that, but a taller guy will have more leverage than a smaller guy if he gets low enough. I feel like I'm too good of an athlete not to be on the defensive line."
Tatum did not play in Bama's first three games, but he had a good excuse. An extremely painful ankle injury kept him sidelined, delaying the start of his college career.
Tatum explained, "It was a bunch of deals. I had a high and low ankle sprain--and slightly torn ligaments in my ankle--and I had bone bruising in the back. It was a bunch of things that turned into one big, sore disaster.
"The coaches didn't want to put me out there and get it hurt again. We worked week by week and worked myself back up. I'm okay now."
Wyatt added, "During early two-a-days, Kyle was one of the guys that was doing really well. But he got an ankle injury, which set him back a little bit. He's just now coming around to where he feels comfortable playing on it and I feel comfortable putting him in the ball game."
Jeremy Clark is expected back this week. Add Tatum into the mix, along with Childress and Bryant, and suddenly Alabama's playing rotation at tackle is looking better.
"There's no doubt about that; the more, the better," Wyatt said with a big smile. "Kyle definitely will make our defense better by getting him back healthy."