Alabama Crimson Tide: Jesse Williams

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban has had no trouble recruiting at Alabama. The number of four- and five-star prospects he and his staff have signed since 2007 is nothing short of staggering. Many of them are already enjoying careers in the NFL.

But which class was best? Which group of blue-chippers was the most impressive?

That’s a difficult question, but one we nonetheless set out to answer this week with a countdown of the top three classes at Alabama during Saban’s tenure, not counting the Tide’s most recent recruiting class.

No. 3 on our list in order of impact is the Class of 2011, which finished No. 2 in that season's ESPN class rankings.

[+] EnlargeCyrus Kouandjio
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsCyrus Kouandjio was an anchor on the Alabama offensive line for three seasons.
The stars: Cyrus Kouandjio didn’t say yes to Alabama first. On signing day, he told a national television audience he would sign with Auburn. But a change of heart and a desire to keep it in the family made Kouandjio go with the Tide, giving Saban his first five-star signee at Alabama. Kouandjio had the look of an All-SEC tackle from Day 1 at 6-foot-7 and 325 pounds, and he delivered on that promise, developing into one of the best at his position in the country. Along with safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (the No. 2-ranked safety) and linebacker Trey DePriest (the No. 2-ranked outside linebacker), the class had plenty of headliners.

The contributors: It’s hard to imagine calling Vinnie Sunseri a “contributor” considering how he developed. But it’s important to remember that Sunseri, the son of then-assistant Sal Sunseri, wasn’t a highly thought-of prospect. He was a linebacker/safety tweener that ESPN ranked the No. 18 outside linebacker in the country. But the 5-foot-11, 202-pound athlete showed he had a nose for the football, developing into one of the best playmakers in the SEC, starring on special teams as a true freshman before developing into a heavy hitter at safety. Jeoffrey Pagan turned into an NFL-caliber defensive lineman, Ryan Kelly has the look of a solid center, and Christion Jones has turned into a home run threat as a receiver and kick returner.

The letdowns: There were plenty of misses in this class, though. Duron Carter, son of NFL legend Cris Carter, never played a down with the team after transferring to Alabama. Bradley Sylve, the No. 5 wideout in the class, hasn’t made a splash at cornerback, and Brent Calloway is no longer with the program after an arrest a year ago. LaMichael Fanning, who had the build scouts drool over at defensive end, never panned out, transferring to Jacksonville State after this past season. And most recently Dee Hart, a top 10 running back out of high school, left the team after the Sugar Bowl and was arrested by Tuscaloosa police on Feb. 16.

The results: The final tally is still coming in, but the 2011 class appears to be headed in the right direction. Junior college transfers Jesse Williams and Quinton Dial are already playing professional football, and there’s a solid chance both Kouandjio and Clinton-Dix will be selected in the first round of the NFL draft in May. Pagan and Sunseri will follow in the later rounds. If DePriest, Jones and Kelly develop into NFL prospects as fourth-year players in 2014, that would make nine total NFL players from the class, not counting what Xzavier Dickson or D.J. Pettway could do to impress scouts.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There's a healthy dose of expectations and optimism surrounding the new-look Alabama defensive line this spring. Like its counterpart on offense, so much has changed in the trenches from a season ago: nose guard Jesse Williams is gone, along with starting defensive end Damion Square and former top reserve Quinton Dial.

[+] EnlargeJeoffrey Pagan
AP Photo/Dave MartinJeoffrey Pagan is hoping to provide Alabama a pass rush that it lacked at times last season.
But unlike the offensive line, which is seeking to replace three All-SEC starters, there's no hint of an expected of a drop off in production from the defensive front. In fact, it's quite the opposite. If there is an area on defense that's in need of the most improvement, it might be the defensive line, particularly the pass rush.

Alabama failed to finish in the top 25 nationally in sacks or tackles for loss last season, trailing eight other SEC teams in negative plays. With underclassmen such as Jeoffrey Pagan and Xzavier Dickson a year older, the hope is that those numbers will improve.

"We've got some really talented guys and guys that work really hard on the defensive line, Pagan especially," Alabama tight end/H-back Harrison Jones said. "I see those guys really stepping up and filling the spots that were left open last year from guys leaving the team, big team leaders like Damion Square and Jesse Williams and guys like Quinton Dial.

"That's something that's going to be a big part of our team this year the defensive line stepping up and I feel like they're doing a good job of that so far."

Pagan, who has played as a reserve his first two seasons, admits the pass rush "struggled a little bit" in 2012. He said he welcomes the task of improving upon it as well as the personal responsibility of rising up the depth chart to a possible starting role. He added on five pounds from a year ago and wants to make his game more well-rounded, stopping the run and the pass.

"I've gotten better," he explained. "I've grown as a person, I've learned from great players."

Pagan credited Square for teaching him what coaches couldn't -- the intangibles of the game. And now that Square is gone, it's fallen on the broad shoulders of Ed Stinson to captain the defensive line. Stinson, the lone returning starter on the line, added 10 pounds to his already stocky frame and has developed into a leader among his peers.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- They lined the sidelines three- and four-deep to watch pro day at the University of Alabama. Not scouts, not coaches, not general managers. The players, Alabama's underclassmen, showed up between classes to glimpse an event they hope will define the close of their careers in Tuscaloosa years from now.

[+] EnlargeJesse Williams
AP Photo/Butch DillAlabama nose guard Jesse Williams runs agility drills during pro day on Wednesday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Alabama has had arguably the most success in all of college football at putting players in the NFL. Coach Nick Saban has produced 24 draft picks since 2009, 11 of which were in the first round. With guard Chance Warmack, cornerback Dee Milliner and running back Eddie Lacy all first-round possibilities in April, that number will rise.

A total of eight former Alabama players worked out in front of personnel from all 32 NFL teams on Wednesday. Jesse Williams, a 320-pound nose guard who ran an eye-opening 4.9 second 40-yard dash, visited with a member of the Indianapolis Colts organization. Milliner didn't participate in drills because of a shoulder injury but still found time to speak with a representative of the New York Jets. On and on the list went, players working toward a future in the pros.

Underclassmen like defensive end Ryan Anderson and defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson watched the convention of former teammates and NFL personnel unfold from a set of bleachers on the far sideline of the indoor practice facility. Quarterback AJ McCarron was joined by rising sophomore receiver Amari Cooper and early enrollee tailback Derrick Henry on a row of stationary bikes, pedaling aimlessly on the turf as they soaked it all in.

After the pro day wrapped up, it would be their turn to change into shorts and cleats and work through similar drills as part of an annual program for underclassmen. The NFL personnel who wished to stay and watch were welcome, getting a head start on some of Alabama's top pro talent for 2014 and beyond.

"I remember doing the junior day like we're about to do after this," Williams said. The 6-foot-3 Austrailian came to Alabama by way of junior college in Arizona, and after two short years he's positioned himself as one of the top interior defensive linemen prospects in the country. "It's been a long way since then, winning national championships and then coming back to do this all again. It's been good and it will be a good experience to keep going."

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- All 325 pounds were packed snuggly into a muscle shirt and tights. It crouched down, waited for the whistle and took off in a sprint: 4.90 seconds to travel 40 yards.

And just like that, nose guard Jesse Williams stole the show at Alabama's pro day. For a 6-foot-3 interior lineman who was previously hobbled by a knee injury, he ran surprisingly well. Only a handful of linemen broke the 5.0-second mark at the NFL combine, and most of them were defensive ends.

"I felt like I did pretty good," said Williams, his head shaved to no doubt cut his 40 time by a fraction of a second, also known as the difference in millions of dollars in the NFL. "I was just trying to get everything going. It's tough. After running those 40s I was gassed."

Williams said it felt good to run without the knee bothering him. He was smiling even before he was told what his time was in the 40-yard dash.

"That's pretty good, I mean anything under 5 seconds," he said. "I weighed in at 325. It felt like I was moving pretty fast. The hardest part was trying to stop before running into you guys."

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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.

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SEC's DLs, LBs strong at combine

February, 21, 2013

Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites will look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins Friday in Indianapolis, and other predraft camps. Today: Defensive linemen and linebackers.

Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama's front seven was rock solid and had a distinctive rock-n-roll flair in nose guard Jesse Williams. Though the Crimson Tide defense lacked a true superstar, Williams' Mohawk haircut, countless tattoos and colorful face paint made the unit stand out.
  • DT Jesse Williams (Position rank: No. 8)
    Strengths: Like his counterpart on the middle of the Alabama offensive line, Barrett Jones, Williams is nothing if not versatile. He played both defensive end and nose guard at UA and possesses the type of strength and quickness that would allow him to do the same at the next level.
    Weaknesses: While Williams is above average in defending the run and the pass, he's not superb at either. His production at Alabama was less than ideal, which can be attributed to the scheme on defense, but a lack of sacks and tackles for loss highlight an inability to consistently rush the passer.
    Comparable: In terms of versatility and athleticism, he is similar to Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams.
  • ILB Nico Johnson (Position rank: No. 8)
    Strengths: Johnson -- who no longer is scheduled to attend the combine -- has the look of an NFL linebacker at 6-foot-2 and 249 pounds. He is a solid wrap-up tackler with good instincts. The fact that he has had no off-field trouble or injury concerns will only help his draft stock.
    Weaknesses: The emergence of C.J. Mosley hurt Johnson in 2012. When Alabama had to defend multiple-receiver looks, Johnson often came off the field in favor of Mosley. Johnson is built for run support, but his lack of athleticism hurts in terms of being an every-down linebacker.
    Comparable: Johnson looks and plays like New Orleans Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton. Both are sure tacklers with good instincts getting between the tackles and getting to the ball carrier.
  • DE Quinton Dial (Position rank: No. 27)
    Strengths: Every so often an Alabama player doesn't hit his potential until he has left college. Dial might be one of those guys. The big, thick defensive end has the raw size (6-foot-5, 307 pounds) and skill to play at the next level and will likely do well in team workouts leading up to the draft.
    Weaknesses: A lack of production at Alabama will create a glass ceiling for Dial. While scouts can fall in love with measurables, they still want to see the talent on tape.
    Comparable: Dial could learn a thing or two from Baltimore Ravens defensive end DeAngelo Tyson, who didn't blow away anyone at Georgia, but after being selected late in the seventh round has become a solid contributor. In terms of size, the two compare favorably, as Tyson comes in at 6-foot-2, 315 pounds.
  • Damion Square (Position rank: No. 29)
    Strengths: Square isn't going to light up the scoreboard with sacks or tackles for loss, but he's consistent. Under coach Nick Saban's watchful eye, Square developed into a solid defender against the run and pass, and understands the idea of gap-assignment football.
    Weaknesses: Simply put, Square doesn't possess the necessary athleticism to get drafted. If there is a player hurt most by missing out on the Senior Bowl, it's him.
    Comparable: N/A

Florida Gators

The heart of the Gators’ 2012 defense will participate in the combine today. DT Sharrif Floyd, whose stock is rising rapidly as he is projected to be taken as high as No. 3, had a fantastic season and anchored UF’s front. He dominated Florida State’s front, and his mixture of size, strength and quickness has scouts drooling. ILB Jon Bostic started every game the past two seasons and was UF’s leader on defense. Nobody was more dependable than Bostic. OLB Jelani Jenkins was limited in 2012 because of a broken finger, a strained hamstring and a broken foot, but when healthy he’s a solid player. OLB Lerentee McCray was forced into action at the buck position (hybrid end/linebacker) because of the injury to Ronald Powell. He didn’t produce big numbers but was a high-effort, high-motor guy.

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Editor's note: The season is over and the Alabama Crimson Tide are national champions yet again. But what happens next? TideNation examines the most pressing storylines of the offseason as the Tide gear up for another title defense.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Spring practice is roughly two months away. The start of another Alabama title defense is right around the corner.

Nine early enrollees are already on campus. The offseason conditioning program is in full swing. Rest assured Scott Cochran, the Crimson Tide's raucous strength and conditioning coach, has put the 2012-13 championship to bed. Inside the football offices, the page has been turned. The time for competition is now.

With that in mind, let's break down the four most intriguing position battles set to unfold over the coming months.

Editor's note: The season is over and the Alabama Crimson Tide are national champions yet again. But what happens next? TideNation examines the most pressing storylines of the offseason as the Tide gear up for another title defense.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There's a lot of good that could be said about the Alabama defense of 2012. It was strikingly efficient and balanced. The Tide finished No. 1 against the run nationally and No. 7 against the pass. They gave up the fewest points per game in the country and put a bow on it all with a dominating performance against Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship.

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Editor's note: The season is over and the Alabama Crimson Tide are national champions yet again. But what happens next? TideNation examines the most pressing storylines of the offseason as the Tide gear up for another title defense.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The heart of the defensive line is gone. So is its vocal leader. Its best backup is leaving, too. Three of the top four defensive linemen played their final game with the Alabama Crimson Tide on Monday night in South Florida.

This week marked the beginning of a new era on the defensive front at Alabama. Nose guard Jesse Williams and defensive ends Damion Square and Quinton Dial are all awaiting their heirs. The unit that garners little of the credit yet bears the brunt of the responsibility on defense is getting a makeover.

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The 2012-13 season is in the books. There are no more position battles to be won and no more jockeying for position in the battle to become the most valuable player for Alabama. Now we can look back and evaluate who were the best athletes to suit it up for the Crimson Tide this season.

1. LG Chance Warmack: If NFL scouts and general managers can recognize it, so can we. Warmack -- yes, a guard -- was the best player on the football field every time he suited up, and not just because of the captivating half-shirt he wore all year revealing his rather large belly. A national television audience saw just how dominant he could be against Notre Dame, as he was in on nearly every key block to spring Alabama's 265 yards on the ground. Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te'o was neutralized largely because of Warmack's efforts getting to the second level. The All-American left guard will likely go early in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft, leaving behind a legacy few can touch.

2. QB AJ McCarron: Speaking of legacies, McCarron has already sealed his. He's the only quarterback to repeat as a national champion and he holds the all-time passing touchdowns record at Alabama. All that with a year of eligibility remaining. The junior from South Alabama took a major step forward as a quarterback and as a leader this season. He finished just 77 yards shy of 3,000, completed better than 67 percent of his passes and threw a whopping 30 touchdowns to three interceptions to lead the country in passing efficiency. The scary thought? Just how good he and an improved receiving corps can be next season.

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Video: Alabama DT Jesse Williams

January, 8, 2013

Mark Schlabach speaks with Alabama defensive tackle Jesse Williams after the Crimson Tide beat Notre Dame in the Discover BCS Championship.

Video: Alabama DT Jesse Williams

January, 7, 2013

Matt Fortuna speaks with Alabama defensive tackle Jesse Williams ahead of Monday's meeting with Notre Dame.
There are many different ways to measure Jesse Williams' toughness.

For starters, seeing him battle in the trenches of the SEC as a nose guard ranks pretty high on the tough-o-meter. Originally a defensive end in Alabama’s 3-4 scheme, Williams moved to the middle this spring, only to endure more pain as more bodies collided with him.

Then there is the plethora of tattoos that covers his body. His arms, neck, chest, legs and hands are drenched in ink, with his most popular one coming on one hand that reads: I stopped checking under my bed for monsters when I realized the monster was me.

[+] EnlargeJesse Williams
Beth Hall/US PresswireAlabama's Jesse Williams finished the regular season with 36 tackles, 2.5 for loss and one sack.
There are also paragraphs from a high school coach’s speech written on his left forearm, which is just another impressive way he shows his tolerance for pain.

Or maybe you measure it by the way the 6-foot-4 320-pounder can shimmy his way into an airplane seat and ride for about 24 hours back to his native country of Australia. With the time difference, Williams, who gets back home to Brisbane only once a year and hasn’t spent Christmas there in three years, said he loses about two days flying across the globe.

“It’s a rough trip,” he said, “especially with my size.”

But the freshest way to measure Williams’ toughness is to watch him go from hobbled mess to lead blocking fullback for the Tide in Alabama’s SEC championship victory against Georgia on Dec. 1.

Williams suffered what looked like a rather nasty knee injury in the third quarter. He needed help getting off the field and eventually plopped down on the end of Alabama’s bench alone with a towel draped over his head.

But after his temporary departure, the senior sprang into action, helping running back Eddie Lacy punch in a 1-yard touchdown and later recording the last of his three tackles in the game.

Williams, who didn’t miss any practices or wear a black noncontact jersey, wasn’t trying to prove anything or play hero. He just wanted to play.

“Trying to get back on the field was the only thing,” Williams said. “I don’t try and stand out, I just look to do what I can to help.”

But he does stand out. From his exotic background and look to his ferocious play up front, Williams can’t help but gain attention. It helped him get noticed by the University of Hawaii while he was playing American football back home, and it helped him get even more attention after he decided to go the junior college route.

After two years at Arizona Western College, the former rugby and basketball standout had his pick of colleges. Now, he’s a win against Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship from having his pick of ring designs … again.

This ring might mean even more to the laid-back bully in the middle. Last season, he was a rising star at defensive end, but when he made the move from end to tackle this spring, Williams realized he’d be racking up more bruises than plays. He expected more double-teams and less time on the stat sheet.

He was right. The technique took awhile to master, and so did his role. He was nicked up a little more and finished the regular season with 36 tackles, 2.5 for loss and one sack. Williams said it’s tougher playing nose guard, but he feels he’s showing more versatility and hopes that will help him win an NFL job.

Center Barrett Jones knows Williams will get his shot at creating an NFL future for himself. He has lined up opposite Williams just about every day since the start of spring practice, and he has noticed a total transformation in Williams' game as he continues to understand his position and how offenses plan for him each play.

“He leaves it all on the field, and we really got to a see a shade of just how tough those Australians are,” Jones said.

“When he gets those hands on you, it's hard to really body up on him because he’s got just such strong hands and he can just sling you and get off the ball fast and really get physical with you.”

Williams’ physical nature made him a Twitter sensation this summer after he bench-pressed 600 pounds. That sort of brute strength is not something Williams reserves only for the weight room, Jones said.

“It’s crazy how strong he is, and you can feel that strength on the football field,” he said.

The Internet publicity was nice, but Williams prefers to keep to himself. He doesn’t care to go into detail about his tattoos -- or his move from Australia to the States.

His focus is on the pigskin, and, right now, he’s looking to be as disruptive as possible against a Notre Dame front standing in his way of capturing a second national title in two years.

It’s been an interesting journey for the Aussie, but a win against the top-ranked Irish would be the perfect ending for such a unique career.

“It’s been a long trip, but it’s been a good one so far,” Williams said. “Hopefully, it can end with this last win and see where it goes from there.”
Editor's note: Every day from now until kickoff in Miami, TideNation will break down the match-ups position-by-position. Today we'll look at the battle of the defensive line.

Alabama: There's not a whole lot of flash to the Alabama defensive line. Jesse Williams, the formerly mohawked Monstar, doesn't lack personality and neither does the oft-grinning Damion Square. But their play on the field, as a result of coach Nick Saban's 3-4 scheme, is usually understated. Square, Williams and Co. are there to take on blocks and free up the linebackers and defensive backs to make plays.

And by that measure, Alabama's defensive line has been one of the best in college football. Take sacks and tackles for loss -- the traditional measurements -- out of the equation and look at the bigger picture: UA ranks in the top five in passing, rushing and total defense. The Crimson Tide have given up the second fewest points per game in the country, trailing only Notre Dame. Creating negative plays is nice, but winning all four downs is what matters.

Williams is the anchor of the unit at nose guard. The converted defensive lineman has held the point well this season, rotating with Brandon Ivory depending on down, distance and general fatigue. Square and Ed Stinson have served as the primary defensive ends, but Quinton Dial, Jeoffrey Pagan and D.J. Pettway have all played significant snaps. The key for the unit as a whole is size and gap discipline. All three starters come in at more than 280 pounds and have at least three years experience.

Notre Dame: The Golden Domers may operate the same 3-4 scheme as Alabama, but they get different results. Coach Brian Kelly's defense has produced a pair of stars on the defensive line in end Stephon Truitt and nose guard Louis Nix III.

"He’s a high-energy player," UA left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio said of Truitt, who comes in at 6-foot-6, 303 pounds. "He’s talented, of course, and it will be an honor to play against him."

With starting defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, Notre Dame averages 311.6 pounds across the front.

Said UA guard Chance Warmack: "They're just really physical, really big up front."

Defensive ends Sheldon Day (6-foot-2, 286 pounds) and Tony Springmann (6-foot-6, 300 pounds) figure into the rotation, along with nose guard Kona Schwenke (6-foot-4, 290 pounds).

Final Verdict: The defensive line may be one of Alabama's biggest weakness as their inability to generate a consistent pass rush has allowed quarterbacks like Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger and Johnny Manziel to run wild. Meanwhile, Notre Dame's d-line is arguably its biggest asset. Truitt, Nix and Lewis-Moore have combined for 20 sacks and 27 tackles for loss. By comparison, Alabama has 33 total sacks, 7.5 coming from Williams, Square and Stinson. While the ability to rush the passer is not the end all be all, it could be one of the keys to the outcome of the game.

Tracking the Tide: Jesse Williams

December, 14, 2012
Editor’s note: Each day between now and Alabama's date with Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship, we will review the season for a key Crimson Tide player or coach and attempt to project what’s next for him. Today we’ll look at nose guard Jesse Williams.

No. 54 Jesse Williams
Nose guard
36 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack

[+] EnlargeJesse Williams
Beth Hall/US PresswireJesse Williams anchored the defensive line for the Tide this season.
Role in 2012: Williams was the anchor to the defensive line at nose guard.

The good: The senior made the transition from defensive end to nose guard look relatively painless this season. He was able to take up two and three blockers at a time and free up others to make plays. Because of that, he didn't accumulate the individual statistics fans focus in on. Instead, you can point to the overall success of the defense (No. 1 in yards allowed, No. 1 in rushing defense, No. 6 in passing defense) as a result of Williams' play.

The bad: Williams began the season saying he'd like to bring a twist to the nose guard position and rush the passer more than his predecessors had. For better or worse, he wasn't able to accomplish that goal as he finished with just one sack and four quarterback hurries. The defense as a whole struggled to get consistent pressure on the passer.

Crystal ball: Williams has a high grade for the upcoming NFL draft, but he might not end up playing nose guard at the next level. His size (6-foot-3, 320-pounds) and athleticism makes him an attractive option as a run-stuffing defensive end on Sundays. Alabama will likely look to freshman Darren Lake and sophomore Brandon Ivory to fill Williams' shoes. Redshirt Dakota Ball could play the position in a role similar to Nick Gentry's a year ago as a third-down interior defensive lineman.


Scout's Take: Atlanta Opening Regional
National recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to discuss top performers from the Nike's The Opening regional camp in Atlanta.