"A lot of them had to grow up fast last year," Coach Wyatt explained. "We don't have a lot of numbers, but I like the kids. I like their character. They want to be good, and they're really working hard."
To help out with a serious lack of depth on the offensive line, two of Wyatt's charges from last season moved to offense. Kyle Tatum and Taylor Britt, both of whom played defensive tackle last year, are now working at right tackle and right guard respectively.
The only senior in the group, Bryant is easily the most experienced defensive tackle on the squad. He started all 13 games last season for the Tide, totaling 44 tackles and 12 quarterback pressures.
Bryant was a partial qualifier out of high school, but if he can graduate before next season he will be able to "earn back" the lost year of eligibility and return for his fourth and final season. Bryant is still working to lose some weight and get into peak condition, but he can be an ‘immovable object' for the Tide at nose tackle.
"‘Bear' comes back with the most experience," Wyatt said. "We're counting on big things out of Anthony."
For Jeremy Clark, last season was supposed to be a transition year. An opportunity for the then redshirt freshman to ease his way into the lineup without being burdened with too much pressure. But injuries and other problems with planned starter Ahmad Childress thrust Clark into the spotlight early. He saw action in 11 games, starting seven, including the final five games of the year.
Clark finished with 23 tackles, two sacks and four quarterback hurries.
Coach Wyatt assessed his third-year player. "Jeremy has really come on. He's been real active in practice. Before that he had a good off-season. He's been tremendous for us. His work ethic has been good, and Jeremy is starting to develop some leadership qualities."
As far as talent is concerned, sophomore Dominic Lee has the potential to be excellent. He probably should have redshirted last year, but a lack of depth forced the true freshman to see action in seven of Bama's final nine games. Lee totaled nine tackles and 1 ½ sacks.
"Dominic is back as well," Wyatt noted in talking about his top three players. "He's still showing signs of that freshman/sophomore-itis. We need to make sure that we get him ready, because we can't afford for him to have any let down. We need him to be a very productive player for us next year."
It's actually fairly common for young linemen to take a year or two to mature and get ready for SEC play. But clearly Wyatt would like to see more from his gifted sophomore.
Wyatt commented, "A smart coach once told me that the meaning of sophomore is ‘a wise fool.' Sometimes since they've played as freshmen and been there they think they know everything. Then as a junior they realize that they don't.
"We can't afford for Dominic to go through that phase. We need for him to buy into what we're doing and learn the details and push himself. If he'll do that, he can be great."
With perfect injury luck and an effective, grind-it-out ball-control offense, then a lucky D-Tackle coach can sometimes get by with only a three-player rotation. But Wyatt wants a minimum of five athletes he can count on heading into the 2004 season.
"We've got some other guys working at the position, and we've got some guys coming in (next fall)," Wyatt explained "We'll need to get some time out of them. Either some players working now or those reporting in August are going to have to take some reps for us and produce for us as well."
Though only a walk-on, Rudy Griffin is currently running second-string at one of the tackle positions.
"Rudy is a solid athlete," Wyatt said. "He's a smart football player, and that really helps him. He pays attention in meetings. He wants to be very good. It bothers him when he does things wrong. You like coaching guys like that. He has a chance to be able to help us."
Another walk-on, redshirt sophomore J.P. Adams saw limited action last year against Mississippi State. But the converted defensive end shows promise.
"J.P. is making some progress," Wyatt said. "I thought last year he did a good job for us. He was really active and was a good, decent pass rusher. We hope to get that out of him again and make him even more productive versus the run."
After moving from linebacker to defensive tackle, walk-on Allen Long has spent the first week of spring adjusting to his new position. But Wyatt likes Long's effort.
"Allen's another one of those athletes that is just a great guy," Wyatt commented. "He does everything you ask him to do. Those type guys have a chance to contribute to the team."