Alabama Football: Time to see new blood on defense

Kendrick Blackshire - Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports
Kendrick Blackshire - Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports /

Alabama football entered the season loaded with veteran talent on defense. It blended that experience with some supremely talented younger guys, who pushed for reps but ultimately waited their turn.

With Alabama’s championship hopes all but dashed, and its senior-laden defense not performing up to preseason expectations, it may be time to give the young blood more of a chance. It could benefit the Tide defense in closing out 2022 strong, and would certainly pay dividends heading into 2023.

True freshman Jaheim Oatis has been a bright spot on the defensive line, recording 21 tackles and a sack so far this season. He will take on a bigger role with the departures of DJ Dale and Byron Young, and will likely be the focal point of the 2023 front.

Redshirt freshman Damon Payne was a highly touted recruit in the 2021 class, and has seen some playing time this season. Payne’s opportunities increased in the Mississippi State game when Alabama was missing several defensive linemen, and he played pretty well. His snaps could continue to increase as this season winds down.

Juniors Tim Smith and Jamil Burroughs, along with redshirt sophomore Jah-Marien Latham, are in their third seasons in the program. Smith has been a rotational piece while Burroughs and Latham have played spot minutes. This group will be the veterans on the 2023 defensive line. With Justin Eboigbe out for the season, there are still plenty of available snaps in 2022.

Alabama football has a lot of athletic young linebackers, led by redshirt freshmen Deontae Lawson. Lawson has been impactful, with 29 tackles on the season. He has missed the past two games with an injury, so hopefully he is able to return to the lineup this week. Lawson is Alabama’s fastest and most versatile linebacker when he is on the field.

Sophomore Kendrick Blackshire and true freshman Jihaad Campbell are both physical specimens who have seen limited time this season. Blackshire has also battled injury in recent weeks. They will have at least four more games to make positive contributions and impress the coaching staff.

Alabama should be set at outside linebacker next year with Chris Braswell and Dallas Turner back in the fold, but true freshman Jeremiah Alexander could factor in as well. It will be interesting to see if he can break the rotation in the latter portion of this season. Campbell is versatile enough to play on the edge as well as inside.

In the secondary, Alabama’s senior safeties have gotten most of the snaps this season. The Tide will bring in a loaded secondary class in 2023, but currently has capable players such as Kristian Story on the roster.

Alabama football began the season with eight seniors starting on its defense. The unit has largely disappointed, not reaching the elite status many expected prior to the season. Jaheim Oatis and Deontae Lawson, among others, will be the faces of the 2023 defense.

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Perhaps their peers, guys like Damon Payne and Jihaad Campbell, can inject some ferocity into the 2022 unit.