Alabama Football: Who steps up to replace Da’Ron Payne?


Alabama football must rebuild its defense and no position will be harder to fill than the one vacated by Da’Ron Payne. Who steps up for the Tide?

The 2018 Alabama football team must do more than reload on defense. Attrition has removed the entire dime defense, secondary. At linebacker, depth is needed after the loss of Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton. The biggest spot to fill is in the middle of the defensive line.

Depth is also a concern on the defensive line, but the first problem is replacing Da’Ron Payne. Coming up short in 2018 defensive line recruiting is more of a depth issue. Bobby Brown (who chose TAMU) or even the nation’s top-rated ’18 DT recruit, Taron Vincent (Ohio State) could not have immediately made up for the loss of Payne.

The Alabama football staff is confident its two 2018 defensive line signees will become top players. Stephon Wynn was a 4-Star, No. 3 rated SDE in the 2018 class. At 6-feet-4 and 308 pounds, he can play inside. He was an early enrollee for the Tide and is expected to become part of the Tide’s front four rotation in 2018. Wynn will most likely slide inside in the Tide’s nickel and dime formations. As an early-down run stopper, at least yet, he is no Da’Ron Payne.

The other 2018 DT signee is Christian Barmore. Tide coaches are probably as excited about Barmore as they are about Wynn. The 4-Star Barmore was the No. 16 rated DT in the 2018 class. Some recruiting insiders compare Christian to Marcel Dareus. Both were little know recruits until the Tide focused on them. Barmore has an additional challenge of needing improved academic performance in order to qualify. The Alabama football staff is confident Barmore will qualify. Not arriving in Tuscaloosa until summer may impact how much Barmore can contribute in 2018.

Five returning players who could start at Nose in 2018

The man in the middle of the Tide’s 3-4 scheme has two important roles. First, he is to clog up the middle on run defense, with a physical presence requiring opponents to frequently use double-teams. Demanding a double-team makes it easier for the Mike and Will linebackers to make tackles. The second primary role also requires a physical presence to push the pocket back in passing situations. The ‘nose’ can play well without making lots of tackles. Da’Ron Payne was one of the Tide’s best players for two seasons. Last year he was tied for fifth on the team in tackles with Hootie Jones.

Option No. 1 – Isaiah Buggs (Senior)

Primarily a defensive end, Buggs played outside and inside for the Tide last season. At 293 pounds he has enough size to play inside. At 6-feet-5, Tide coaches may choose to let him add a little more bulk to aid inside play. He was sixth on the team in tackles with 51 stops.

Option No. 2 – Quinnen Williams (Redshirt Sophomore)

Williams is also a defensive end first, but like Buggs can and does slide inside. He is slightly undersized for a ‘nose’ at 285 pounds. He played in all 14 games last season and will have an expanded role in 2018.

Option No. 3 – Raekwon Davis (Junior)

At 6-feet-7, Kwon is generally considered too tall to play ‘nose’ but he played inside and outside last season. He was the Tide’s third-leading tackler with 69 stops. He will be the most gifted athlete on the Tide’s defensive line in 2018.

Option No. 4 – Johnny Dwight (Redshirt Senior)

Dwight had a great spring in 2017. Along with Da’Ron Payne, he won the spring Billy Neighbors Defensive Lineman award. He only played in six games but one of the six was the national championship game. He is not likely to start but could add much-needed depth.

Option No. 5 – Phidarian Mathis (Redshirt Freshman)

Mathis has the size to play ‘nose’ at 6-feet-4 and 306 pounds. An entire year of preparation should serve him well. It certainly allowed him time to shed some bad weight and get stronger. Insiders rumor in the second half of the season he became hard to block as a scout team player. There is little doubt he will be a key rotational player in 2018.

Alabama football fans and his teammates will miss Da’Ron Payne. None of the five guys listed above can be another Da’Ron but all have the chance to excel in the ‘nose’ role.

Next: 2018 Signing Class is 'Just Fine'

Nick Saban has not ruled out adding another defensive lineman to the 2018 class. Unfortunately, there are not many options.