Editor's note: From now until the start of spring camp on March 16, TideNation will count down the 12 most intriguing players to watch on the Alabama football roster. Today we look at nose guard Darren Lake.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- "Raw" might be the best word to describe University of Alabama nose guard Darren Lake. The rising sophomore is an unrefined talent, brimming with potential yet lacking the nuances of the game.
The York, Ala., native was forced into action as a true freshman because of a lack of depth at the position. It was just he, Brandon Ivory and Jesse Williams involved in a rotation packed with pounds but short on experience. UA coach Nick Saban said he thought about redshirting Lake to give him an extra year of development but instead played him in eight games when tallied three tackles last season, one resulting in negative yardage.
There were times where Lake looked like a clone of former Alabama All-SEC nose guard Josh Chapman, gathering up blockers with each hand. There were other times where he was pushed around by defenders for no reason other than being out of position. Auburn's Reese Dismukes, a seasoned center who gave 22 pounds away to Lake, punished the rookie at times in the Iron Bowl.
To use a sports analogy, Lake's a young power hitter who hasn't figured out how to hit a curveball. And in the SEC, you don't get many fastballs in the strike zone. Once the hefty 315-pounder recognizes the spin and makes the necessary adjustments, watch out.
The same words uttered by Williams in August hold true today: "Once he gets the system down and how we play here, I think he'll do really well."
With Williams now off to the NFL, the learning curve for Lake has been shortened. As a true sophomore, he's expected to compete with Ivory for the starting job on the defensive line.
Early indications are that Lake is progressing well. If he can make the go from a raw prospect dominating the lowest division of high school football in Alabama to becoming a major contributor on Crimson Tide's defense within two years, what a leap that would be. To borrow the same baseball analogy, it would be like sending a player from rookie ball to single-A ball to the big leagues, gliding over rungs that usually take years to get past.