The nose tackle is so-called because he often plays nose-to-nose on the center. A primary job is to occupy two blockers and stop up the middle so that others can make tackles. Last year Alabama's Rudy Griffin, had a play that is rare as any in football, a nose tackle making an interception and returning it for a touchdown (against Mississippi State). But on the season Griffin had just 16 tackles in 12 games.
Nose tackle is one of those positions where Bama does not have a starter returning. But it is a position that was better than expected in the spring, and for which competition should be good in the fall. Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula has said that he wants every position to be contested with quality athletes.
The leader coming out of spring training is one of the most popular players on the team, a favorite of players and coaches for his great work ethic. And if things come close to evening out, Dominic Lee will have an injury-free season and finally achieve the greatness that was predicted for him when he was the state's top line prospect in 2002. A succession of injuries, particularly ankle problems, limited his play his first three seasons. But he was healthy in the off-season following the 2005 season and had an excellent spring.
Lee, a 6-2, 300-pound senior, will be going for his fourth letter, but has never been a starter. Although he played in 11 games last year, his four tackles was the lowest total he has had. He was in on nine tackles as a freshman and 13 as a sophomore. Lee, who plans to be a coach, is considered a student of the game, one who has an understanding of his assignments and also those of his teammates.
Lee is backed by J.P. Adams, who had almost as many plays as Lee last year. Lee had 133 plays and Adams 113. And Adams had nine tackles on the season.
(Alabama's tackle positions are somewhat interchangeable, and both Lee and Adams have seen occasional duty at left tackle as well as nose tackle.)
Adams, a 6-3, 288-pound senior, is often referred to as a former walk-on, which is true. But the reason he was a walk-on is that as the son of a University dean, he did not have to have a scholarship and agreed to walk on to help Alabama, which had scholarship restrictions. Adams will see plenty of action this fall.
Alabama coaches have to be excited about the future at this position with a couple of redshirt freshmen competing behind Lee and Adams.
Brandon Fanney is a 6-5, 270-pounder who spent a year at Hargrave Academy before reporting to Bama last fall. He is from Morristown, Tennessee, where he played at West High School.
Byron Walton, 6-4, 298, came to Bama last fall from West Morgan High School in Trinity. He was a defensive end on the scout team last fall but moved to nose tackle in the spring.
Although with two seniors at the position it might seem that Fanney and Walton would get little game action this year, Alabama traditionally plays a large number of defensive linemen. Additionally, injuries at the physical nose tackle position could change the depth chart.
Alabama did not sign a freshman listed as a defensive tackle, but many expect Brian Motley to be on the defensive line rather than on the offensive front. But if Motley is on defense, it will likely be at left tackle, where the Tide has only two scholarshipped players, senior Jeremy Clark and and redshirt freshman Lorenzo Washington.