- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Every Tuesday and Thursday between now and national signing day, TideNation will review each position and look at who figures to start, who could rise up the depth chart and who might be on the way. Today we’ll look at the nose guards.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The position is a thankless one, all responsibility and little payoff. Nose guards are asked to take a beating and let others make the plays at the University of Alabama. In coach Nick Saban's 3-4 system, the men in the middle of the defensive line don't show up in the stat book but they are arguably the key to the defense. Take away the building block and the structure crumbles.
Alabama fans have seen the position's importance the past few years, starting with the mammoth Terrence Cody who ate space like none other, followed by Josh Chapman and then Jesse Williams. All three have had minor spins on how they play nose guard. Williams tried to add a pass-rush flavor to the recipe and found some success.
But Jan. 7 will be Williams' last day as an Alabama football player. For the third straight season, coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will incorporate a new nose guard into the fold.
Battling for No. 1: The wrestling match for the starting job will play out between sophomore Brandon Ivory and freshman Darren Lake. Ivory, who started one game, was the primary backup to Williams this season, coming in for him when he went down in the SEC Championship Game and spelling him on third-down situations. Lake, on the other hand, played early in the year but saw his minutes dwindle. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Alabama native is a load inside and showed flashes of the strength to take on multiple blockers. He appeared in seven games this season and made three stops.
Strength in numbers: The most intriguing potential substitute at the position is freshman Dakota Ball, who appears headed toward a redshirt this season. Alabama had to pry the former three-star from the Georgia Bulldogs before signing day last year, and the move could pay off as he enters his second season on campus. Given his size (6-2, 295 pounds) and quickness, we could see Ball end up in a role similar to Nick Gentry's a year ago as a third-down and passing situations option. Should junior William Ming put on weight (he's currently listed at 283 pounds), he could become a reserve at the position. Freshman Alphonse Taylor started his career at nose guard but has since transitioned to the offensive line, where the move appears permanent.
Help on the way: Alabama doesn't have a defensive lineman in the mold of a nose guard committed and only one prospect appears to fit the bill. Montravius Adams, a five-star from Georgia, is considering the Crimson Tide, the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers among others. Another prospect to keep an eye on is Auburn commitment Dee Liner, whom Alabama coaches have visited in recent weeks. The four-star defensive tackle prospect could be in play after the firing of Gene Chizik.