17 June 2010
Some players struggle with personal problems during their career. Some players take several years to become an integral part of the team. It's rare for one of those players go their entire career without a start, and then become a starter. That's the uphill battle for the next guy in line for a player profile:
Luther Davis - #96 - 6-3 - 279 lbs. - West Monroe, LA
When Nick Saban was hired in early January of 2007, people that follow recruiting knew that Alabama would become a force. Even the most optimistic of those, though, felt it would be difficult for the coach to go in to his old Louisiana stomping grounds and get top talent. It took all of three weeks for that theory to be proven wrong, as Coach Saban received a commitment from one of the Bayou state's top players. That opened the door to Alabama signing a player from Louisiana in each year of Coach Saban's tenure.
So Luther Davis's signing opened a lot of eyes, and a lot of doors for Alabama in Louisiana. It also opened a can of worms for Luther and his family, as they apparently received hate mail throughout the remainder of Luther's senior year of high school. Whether it was related or not, Luther also briefly considered leaving the Alabama team last spring. After a brief absence, he returned to the team, but struggled to find his back into the upper half of the rotation at defensive end.
In fact, it wasn't until Damion Square went down with an injury that Davis began to move back up the depth chart. As Alabama's defense became more specialized, Luther began to see his options for playing time diminish. Not only was he behind seniors at both ends spots - Brandon Deaderick and Lorenzo Washington - but he was surpassed by explosive sophomore Marcell Dareus in Bama's rabbit rusher package. As Dareus continued to become an absolute force, Luther began to see his playing time eventually disappear.
In total Luther managed just 11 tackles during the 2009 season. Bama's defense isn't designed for the defensive linemen to make a lot of tackles, but Luther's total was sixth among linemen for the Tide. His 1.5 tackles for a loss was also sixth among linemen, and a far cry from the nine totalled by Dareus. It's not like 2009 was an aberration, either. In his career Luther has managed just 26 tackles, with 4.5 for a loss. He's also managed just 2 quarterback hurries.
With Square missing the majority of the 2009 season, Luther entered the spring as the presumptive starter at right defensive end. It looked as though he would get the majority of the reps, and that he might have a real shot at becoming a starter for the first time in his career. Then Damion Square was cleared for contact, and Luther found himself in a dogfight for playing time.
Damion Square is simply too explosive to keep off of the field, but Luther stands a solid chance of holding on to the starting role. Coach Saban and defensive line coach Bo Davis have demonstrated in their time at Alabama that a defensive lineman who can stop the run will see the field before a lineman that is a good pass rusher. That's why we continued to see Deaderick and Washington ahead of Dareus in 2009. With Terrence Cody now in the NFL, the defensive line will likely be tested early in the season to see if it is penetrable.
Luther is a better run stopper than Square at this point, and that's what will keep him on the field. If Bama is able to get the type of pass rush from Dareus and the linebackers that some folks think, then you can expect to see Luther hold down his spot for a while. With the Tide secondary being extremely thin, and even more green, getting consistent pressure on the quarterback will be a premium. If the starting group is not able to get that pressure, look for Square to get more playing time to increase the pressure from both end spots.
Having said that, if Square progresses much more over the summer, he could surpass Luther in run stopping, as well. If that happens, Luther will likely continue to see time, though it will be in the same limited capacity that we saw in 2009.
While that might sound like a sour prognosis, having a senior with 34 career games under his belt as a backup is nothing to overlook. Bama has a ton of talent on the defensive front, but no one has more experience than Luther. He will provide solid leadership on the unit, and even if his role beyond that is simply to provide depth... well, you win with depth.
Whether it's Luther or Square that lines up opposite Dareus, expect them to have a nice year. Teams will simply have to double team both Josh Chapman and Marcell Dareus, and that should open things up considerably for the guy on the other side.
Up next, a guy who saw his role increase considerably after making the move from true tight end to H-back: Preston Dial.
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