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March 5, 2012

Spring preview: Defensive line

Tidesports.com's annual preview of spring practice at the University of Alabama continues with a look at the defensive line. This is the fifth of an eight-part series previewing one position each day until spring drills commence on March 9.

Quinton Dial (left), Jesse Williams (center) and Damion Square (right) are three of Alabama's most experienced returning defensive linemen.

Moving on
After five years in the program and two years as the primary starter, things won't look the same up front with Josh Chapman gone from the nose guard position. Another one to replace is Chapman's backup, Nick Gentry, who gave UA some pass-rushing quickness on third down.

Moving forward
The Crimson Tide brings back not only starters Damion Square and Jesse Williams at the end positions, but primary backups Ed Stinson and Quinton Dial as well. That foursome delivered most all of UA's statistical production at the end spots last year, with Square leading the way with 32 tackles and seven tackles for loss. Even though Alabama has a veteran group here, spring drills still represent a chance to improve. Keep in mind, Williams is still learning the game as an Australian native who hasn't played much football, Stinson has spent only one season as a lineman after moving from linebacker, and Dial is still just one year removed from the junior college ranks.

Moving up
From older backups like Undra Billingsley and Chris Bonds to younger ones like LaMichael Fanning and Jeoffrey Pagan, defensive line coach Chris Rumph has about a dozen scholarship players to work with this spring. Pagan got some limited playing time as a freshman, but several other younger defensive linemen have yet to see game action. Spring practice might also help determine whether some of the Crimson Tide's youth at the position is better suited to playing inside on the nose or outside at end. Fanning, said to be one of the best raw talents from UA's 2011 signing class, figures to be an end. For guys like Pagan and D.J. Pettway, roles may still need some refinement.

Moving day
Mobile native Alphonse Taylor joins the Crimson Tide this spring as a freshman early enroller. Expected to compete inside at the nose guard spot, Taylor is already one of the biggest players on the team at about 350 pounds. Much like UA's two early-enrolling wide receivers, Taylor enters UA with as good an opportunity to compete as anyone because of the experience lost at his position.

Position overview
One spring priority for this position will be finding not one but two capable nose guards to replace what UA is losing in Chapman and Gentry. Based on the substitution patterns UA has used in the past, that means identifying a run stopper to play on first and second downs, and a more agile nose guard to play on third downs. The 3-4 defense begins with stopping the run on early downs, and that begins at the nose position. Hence, a guy like Brandon Ivory figures to be a key development in the spring for the first time in his career. Williams played end last year in games, but has gotten some practice time inside, and may get some more this spring. UA has significantly more experience at the end positions, but building depth is important at a position that will graduate three key players after the 2012 season. Leading the way will be Square, who has the most SEC experience of anyone in the unit.

Check out Tidesports.com's spring practice previews for the offensive positions below...

Running backs
Offensive line
Wide receivers & tight ends

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