Bye week came at a good time for football in Alabama. The grind of the season has started to wear off on this roster, and Alabama is particularly battered on the seventh line of defense.
Senior defender Justin Eboigbe has missed the last four games with a neck injury. Unfortunately, he won’t be returning to the field this season, according to head coach Nick Saban. A veteran defensive leader, Eboigbe was one of Alabama’s most effective defenders earlier this season. In four games, he recorded 11 tackles and a half tackle for loss. He has 59 tackles, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and one interception in his career.
A handful of other players can use this bye week to get healthy and play again. Senior defenseman DJ Dale and freshman Jaheim Oatis were both inactive for the Mississippi State Game and are considered forward daily. Dale is third on the team this season with two sacks and has 64 career tackles and five career sacks. Oatis made a valuable contribution in his freshman season in Tuscaloosa with 20 tackles and a sack in seven games.
Should DJ Dale and Jaheim Oatis be absent for an extended period, other members of the line have to help out. Senior Byron Young (29 tackles, two TFLs) and junior Tim Smith (11 tackles) were key contributors all year. Junior Jamil Burroughs, redshirt student Jah-Marien Latham and redshirt freshman Damon Payne Jr. should all be poised for bigger roles.
Alabama Football: Getting skinny at the linebacker
Alabama has also suffered some injuries to its inside linebacker depth map. Deontae Lawson, a key rotation player, and Kendrick Blackshire, one of the top reserve linebackers, both missed the Mississippi State Game. Lawson has used his playing opportunities very effectively, recording 29 tackles so far. Blackshire, who appears to have some sort of hand injury, has completed six tackles this season.
Senior inside linebacker Jaylen Moody has been dealing with injuries himself. He led the team in tackles earlier this season but was inactive against Tennessee and only made one stop against Mississippi State. For the season, he has 34 tackles, 4.5 TFLs and two sacks.
With Demouy Kennedy already out for the season, Alabama football can’t take more hits at the inside linebacker. If Lawson and Blackshire can’t make a quick return, look for redshirt rookie Ian Jackson and true rookies Jihaad Campbell and Shawn Murphy to possibly contribute more.
Alabama has been one of the best running defenses in the nation this season and currently ranks third in yards per carry allowed (2.7). Still, it needs to remain healthy and maintain depth to continue at this level of production. Bye week should help Alabama football get some of its key figures back on the lineup.