Alabama Football: Defensive line depth a major strength

Ole Miss v Alabama
Ole Miss v Alabama / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

Alabama Football might need some reinforcements in the secondary, but its front seven, and its defensive line in particular, should be among the nation’s best.

Bama doesn’t have a superstar or a household name returning on the defensive line. In fact, it lost its best player to the NFL Draft. Senior Justin Eboigbe wisely opted to forego his final season of eligibility and turn pro following a 2023 campaign that saw him post 64 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and 7.0 sacks. Although Eboigbe didn’t get a lot of national headlines, he truly had a dominant season by interior defensive line standards. 

While he will depart, Alabama Football has just about everybody else back on its defensive front.

Graduate student Tim Smith returns for year five, and everything is in place for him to have a breakout season similar to that of Eboigbe. Smith has been in the rotation every year since he has been on campus, and is one of the lone remaining players from Bama’s last national championship team in 2020. He posted career-high numbers of 31 tackles and 2.0 sacks in 2023, and appears to be ready to take the next step in his development. Tim Smith has already appeared in 51 career games, notching 89 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. 

Redshirt junior Tim Keenan III is also back after becoming a major component of the Alabama defense in 2023. Keenan III is the prototypical nose guard, and was very effective in that role against both the run and the pass. He is stout and very difficult to move with a low center of gravity, and yet is surprisingly agile. The Birmingham native made 38 tackles last season, an impressive figure for a nose guard, including 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack. 

After generating a lot of buzz during his true freshman season in 2022, Jaheim Oatis was quietly just as productive as a sophomore last year. Oatis dropped a lot of weight heading into 2023 and played much slimmer during the season. While he was perhaps less imposing, he remained just as effective, notching 26 tackles and two pass breakups. Oatis played starters’ reps in each of his first two seasons, and gives Alabama Football another experienced option on the defensive line. It will be fascinating to see where he fits into Kane Wommack’s defense, and just as interesting to see what weight the new staff asks him to play at. 

Sophomore James Smith was a 5-star recruit out of Montgomery in the 2023 class. He appeared in nine games as a true freshman, making two tackles and recovering a fumble at USF. While his statistical impact wasn’t massive, James Smith showed his value by coming in as a freshman and pushing his way into a rotation that already had several older, more established, and very good players. He should only improve from here.

Redshirt junior Damon Payne has yet to crack the starting lineup through three years in the program, but he has enjoyed a steadily increasing role and has become a fixture in the rotation. Payne appeared in every game for Alabama Football in 2023, and has made 16 tackles in 19 career games with 1.5 tackles for loss. 

Redshirt senior Jah-Marien Latham has also seen his role expand; he played in every game for Bama in 2023 and has appeared in 26 of 27 games over the past two years. He is an undersized defensive lineman who specializes in pass rush situations, making him a key part of Alabama’s third-down defense in 2023. He finished the year with eight tackles and 1.5 sacks.

In addition to this abundance of returning talent and experience on the defensive front, Alabama Football went to the portal and landed former Texas A&M defensive lineman LT Overton. Overton was a 5-star recruit in the class of 2022 and got on the field immediately for the Aggies. He registered 48 tackles and 3.0 tackles for loss in two seasons in College Station, and will be a junior for the Tide in the fall.

Overton coming to Tuscaloosa is a prime example of the rich getting richer via the transfer portal. His addition gives the Tide defensive line yet another high-upside, former blue-chip recruit that also has multiple seasons of SEC experience and production. 

The Crimson Tide should be able to roll ‘em out in droves in 2024.