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August 1, 2012

Fall camp preview: Defensive line

Tidesports.com's annual fall camp preview continues with a look at the Crimson Tide's defensive line. Throughout the week before practice begins, Tidesports will take a close look at both lines of scrimmage, as well as the skill positions on both sides of the ball. Link to each previous feature at bottom.

Quinton Dial, Jesse Williams and Damion Square will be key pieces of Alabama's defensive line.

The nose guards
Senior Jesse Williams moved into this role to replace Josh Chapman in spring practice, and took to it quickly. His recent photo-evidenced claim of a 600-pound bench press on his Twitter page leaves little doubt about his ability to hold his own inside from a strength standpoint. Williams was among UA's most improved players on defense over the course of the 2011 season, but that was at defensive end, where he made 24 tackles with four of them behind the line. Practicing against Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones at center and preseason All-SEC guard Chance Warmack will go a long way toward preparing Williams (at right) for the challenge of playing inside. Reserve options include Brandon Ivory, Wilson Love and Jeoffrey Pagan. Incoming freshman Darren Lake is expected to compete at nose guard as well.

The ends
Although the 'Jack' position is technically a linebacker, it is essentially a pass-rushing role and therefore we'll include it here. Courtney Upshaw took 18 tackles for loss and half as many sacks with him to the NFL, leaving a crucial playmaking void up front. Sophomore Adrian Hubbard worked with the first unit on A-Day and has the size and range to be an effective rusher, but is short on experience. Hubbard has practiced at multiple positions, however, and can even operate in pass coverage, so he may not have his hand on the ground full-time like Upshaw did. Senior Damion Square (at right) enters his final season as the leader and most experienced member of the unit. His 32 tackles last year led all of the interior linemen on defense. At the other end, Quinton Dial and Ed Stinson figure to wage an interesting camp battle.

Key reserves
Youngsters like Pagan, Ivory, Love, LaMichael Fanning and D.J. Pettway (at right) should have a better opportunity to find a role. Pagan played the most of group last season, appearing in six games. UA frequently rotates defensive linemen in games, so identifying the line's top substitutes will be no small objective in fall camp. In terms of potential, Tidesports.com continues to hear good things about Fanning's game, although Pagan may again be more immediately ready to play.

What must be done
Just as Barrett Jones' adjustment to the center position is important, Williams' move from end to nose guard will be a subject of camp as well. One question still to be answered is how much the 320-pound Australian will play on third downs, as UA's nose guards often rotate out in passing situations. The emergence of a capable pass rusher at the Jack position, and as noted above, identifying the team's best substitute options, are two other camp tasks. Expect both Dial (at right) and Stinson to see the field frequently no matter which plays ahead of the other, but beyond that, it's an open race.

Square and Williams give Alabama two proven seniors to help anchor the front. Much of the depth is short on experience, although Dial and Stinson give Alabama two more ends who have played their share of meaningful downs in the past. Whether the Jack position is manned by Hubbard (at right), Xzavier Dickson or someone else, that position will bear watching in camp because the role calls for backfield disruption. Overall, expect this line to be effective against the run, but how well it performs against the pass remains to be seen.


Monday's preview: Offensive line
Tuesday's preview: Offensive skill positions

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