Alabama Football: New Blood on Crimson Tide Defense

(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images) /

A Crimson Tide defense that was loaded with seniors, as well as two juniors that will be first round picks in the NFL Draft, is going to lose a lot of production and leadership heading into 2023. However, Alabama football returns four key pieces that are more than capable of leading the defense.

Jaheim Oatis is the monster in the middle. Oatis already has lots of game experience under his belt after receiving nine starts as a true freshman. An impressive athlete at roughly 350 pounds, he closely resembles the vintage, dominant interior defensive linemen that were hallmarks of the early Nick Saban era.

Oatis finished his freshman year with 29 tackles, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups, and a sack, receiving Freshman All-SEC honors. If he can make another jump this offseason, he has the potential to be one of the best defensive linemen in the country.

Dallas Turner has been a fixture in the defense for two years, and he is now out of the shadow of Will Anderson Jr. The outside linebacker burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2021, recording 8.5 sacks despite not cracking the lineup until midway through the season.

Turner was expected to perform at an All-American level in his sophomore season, but he wasn’t as impactful and his production dipped. In a relatively quiet year, Turner still recorded 37 tackles, eight tackles for loss, eight quarterback hurries, and four sacks.

This will be a bounce-back year for Dallas Turner. He returns for his draft-eligible junior season in 2023, and figures to be the new leader of Alabama’s perennially stacked outside linebacker room.

Deontae Lawson could be the face of the 2023 Alabama defense. Lawson played weakside linebacker in 2022 as a redshirt freshman, and was one of the most promising players on the defense.

He was not a full-time starter, yet racked up 51 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and four pass breakups. He brought a refreshing athleticism to the inside linebacker room, and is a sure tackler. Lawson may be next in line to become the starting middle linebacker and captain the 2023 defense.

Kool-Aid McKinstry arrived in the 2021 class alongside Turner and Lawson. The cornerback was a 5-star recruit and the no. 1 player in the state of Alabama, and has not disappointed in his first two seasons.

McKinstry’s progression has been fun to watch, and it could culminate in a draft-eligible junior season that sees him become a first-round pick. Kool-Aid McKinstry was named to the Freshman All-SEC team in 2021 after recording 25 tackles, a sack, a pass breakup, and an interception.

He returned as a sophomore and established himself as a true shutdown corner, as well as an electrifying punt returner. McKinstry finished the 2022 season with 35 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, an interception, and a team-high 15 pass-breakups. He was named to All-American teams on both defense and special teams by several publications, and his best football is still in front of him.

With a lot of experience departing from the 2022 defense for Alabama football, there will be a youth movement on next year’s defense. The products of the loaded 2021 and 2022 recruiting classes are now the leaders of the unit, and Alabama football will have a difference-maker at every level of the defense.

After another offseason in the strength and conditioning program, Jaheim Oatis figures to be nearly unblockable as a sophomore on the interior. Deontae Lawson, Dallas Turner, and Kool-Aid McKinstry all enter their money year at their respective positions. All three possess incredible athleticism and the tools to contend for All-American status.

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Most importantly, this quartet has the leadership qualities to usher in a new chapter of elite defensive play in Tuscaloosa.