Alabama Football: Replacing Da’Ron Payne, who nose?


For 2018, Alabama football must replace Da’Ron Payne. It will not be easy but there are several good options to play nose guard.

Da’Ron Payne was arguably the best nose guard in the Alabama football Saban era. There have been several great interior defensive linemen during Saban’s 11 seasons. Terrance Cody, A’Shawn Robinson, Dalvin Tomlinson and Jarren Reed to name a few. None of them had the complete package of Da’Ron Payne.

At the recent NFL Combine, Payne weighed in at 311 pounds. He ran a 4.91 forty.  That time is so fast, few defensive ends can match it and almost no interior defenders.

Da’Ron came out of Shades Valley high school in Birmingham at close to 350 pounds. As Nick Saban re-tooled Alabama football defenses to be leaner and faster, Payne pared down his weight. The weight loss did not hurt his strength. He became stronger under the tutelage of Scott Cochran.

Often demanding offensive line double-teams, Payne, clogged the middle of the Tide defense. He could stuff runs, push pockets and chase down ball carriers. Payne was an exceptional Alabama football player. A soon-to-be NFL first-rounder, Da’Ron will easily transition to the NFL game.

Who steps in at nose in ’18?

As Denzel Washington said as Coach Herman Boone, talking about his injured star, Gary Bertier, “you can’t replace a Gary Bertier.” The situation is different but Alabama football cannot replace Da’Ron Payne. Just as it cannot replace Minkah Fitzpatrick or Jonathan Allen before them. Fortunately, in football, games are won by the execution of groups and units and rarely by the performance of individuals.

Alabama football will be different without Payne and Fitzpatrick. But the defensive unit can become as good or better than 2017. New players, new coaches and maybe even some new defensive wrinkles will be seen in 2018.

Who steps up on the interior of the Tide’s defensive line will be important. On Tuesday, responding to a media question, Saban pointed out Quinnen Willaims. The redshirt sophomore could earn the starting role at nose. Almost as important as the starter are the others in the Tide’s frequently rotating defensive line.

Depth not really an issue

If Williams is the starter, he will have to beat out redshirt freshman Phidarian Mathis and incoming JUCO transfer Vita Musika. Redshirt senior, Johnny Dwight could earn more playing time in his final season. True freshmen, early enrollee, Stephon Wynn and late-enrollee, Christian Barmore will also compete for playing time. Raekwon Davis and Isaiah Buggs can move inside as well.

No nose like Payne is not a major problem for the 2018 Crimson Tide. Even after a disappointing defensive line recruiting class, the Tide has sufficient numbers and talent. Maybe not Da’Ron Payne talent, but more than enough to get the job done.

Next: 'Never too early' 2018 Defense Depth Chart

Early buzz from Tuscaloosa is new coach Craig Kuligowski is the best d-line teacher Saban has had on an Alabama football staff. Having Coach ‘Kool’ in T-Town is bad news for the rest of the SEC and great news for Crimson Tide fans.