Alabama Football: Two breakout stars on 2023 defense


Alabama football will have a revamped defense after losing several seniors and draft-eligible juniors from its 2022 starting unit. There is currently a lot of buzz surrounding the defensive coordinator situation, but, regardless of the DC, the Bama defense will have to perform on the field.

Two of the most obvious potential breakout stars on Alabama’s 2023 defense are a pair of rising sophomores that played key roles as freshmen last season.

Alabama Football: Deontae Lawson

Redshirt sophomore inside linebacker Deontae Lawson may be one of college football’s worst-kept secrets. He is widely expected to be the next star linebacker at the Capstone, and will have every opportunity to live up to those expectations.

Lawson got plenty of snaps at weakside linebacker in 2022, replacing senior Jaylen Moody for good after Moody suffered an injury. Lawson started four games in his redshirt freshman season, racking up 51 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and four pass breakups.

Deontae Lawson’s talent is not in question. He is fast and rangy with sideline-to-sideline abilities, is a good tackler, and is solid in pass coverage. The uncertainty surrounding Lawson is exactly what position he will play. He appears to be more natural at WILL, which is where he played in 2022. However, with the departure of senior Henry To’o To’o, Alabama football has a vacancy at its signal-calling middle linebacker position.

If Lawson has to assume those duties directing the rest of the defense, he will have to prove he can do so effectively. Other quality inside linebacker candidates include junior Kendrick Blackshire, sophomores Jihaad Campbell and Shawn Murphy, and JUCO enrollee Justin Jefferson.

Alabama also brought in veteran linebacker Trezmen Marshall, a transfer from Georgia. He has the size to compete between the tackles, and has a lot of experience in a similar system to that of Alabama. Of all these options, Marshall seems to be the most likely to play the MIKE, should Alabama wish to keep Deontae Lawson at weakside ‘backer.

Surely, this will be sorted out during the offseason based on individual strengths and weaknesses. Regardless, I expect Deontae Lawson to be one of the best linebackers in college football.

Alabama Football: Jaheim Oatis

Sophomore defensive lineman Jaheim Oatis was lauded for his dramatic physical transformation before he even took a snap for the Crimson Tide. The massive lineman came to Tuscaloosa at well over 400 pounds…which was a little too big. He was able to lose 74 pounds in one offseason and cracked the starting lineup on opening day as a true freshman.

At 6’5” and nearly 350 pounds, Oatis was still the biggest guy on the field more often than not. He is a surprisingly twitchy athlete for his size, and showed the ability to rush the passer from the interior defensive line.

Jaheim Oatis started 10 games in 2022, recording 29 tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack. He was one of Alabama’s most impactful and disruptive defensive linemen throughout the season.

With his size and agility, Oatis can be virtually unblockable at times, and found himself constantly in the backfield by season’s end. He also showed field awareness beyond his years, regularly getting his hands up to swat passes when he couldn’t get to the quarterback. Oatis was named to the freshman All-SEC team for his efforts.

Jaheim Oatis returns as one of the alphas on the Alabama defense. He should enter his sophomore season as an undisputed starter, flanked by seasoned veterans such as Justin Eboigbe, Tim Smith, and Jamil Burroughs. He has the upside to explode and have a truly dominant 2023 season.

Next. 2023 offensive breakout stars. dark

Alabama football will have a lot of new faces on the defensive side of the ball in 2023. There are several names that could potentially turn in breakout seasons, but I’m betting on Deontae Lawson and Jaheim Oatis.