One of the more interesting aspects of Alabama's visit to the recent 2021 SEC Media Days was the player representing the defense: Phidarian Mathis.
In terms of leadership, the defensive lineman doesn't have a problem speaking out, which was probably why he was selected to make the short trip to Birmingham last month. That part of Mathis started to be evident with the Black Lives Matter Rally to Foster Auditorium.
"It really didn't affect me, but I just love to see the whole team come together and support that type of movement last year, and that showed a lot of things, the reason why we won a championship," Mathis said. "We didn't have self-pity guys on the team. Everybody came together, and that says a lot about it right there."
It's the on-field part of the equation that's so intriguing.
Mathis has played in 40 career games at Alabama, but with just eight starts. In 2020, he was credited with 31 tackles, including five for loss and 1.5 sacks, along with three quarterback pressures, three pass breakups and one forced fumble.
Yet Alabama is plugging him for preseason honors, which is a strong tell for when player has taken an offseason step forward in his development.
Regardless, Alabama's defensive line could be outstanding in 2021. There's size, depth, experience and a lot of talent on the roster.
Heading into fall camp it appears that the starting three could be veterans Mathis, DJ Dale and LaBryan Ray, a redshirt senior many thought would be a prime candidate to leave Alabama early for the NFL but who has instead missed most of the last two seasons with ankle and foot injuries.
Mathis is listed as 6-4, 312 pounds, Dale is 6-3, 307 and Ray is 6-5, 295. Each can clog up a lane just as effectively as collapse the interior or edge, but Ray is the one with the most upside if he can stay healthy.
After that the Crimson Tide can rotate up front in waves. The second group could feature Justin Eboigbe, Byron Young and the disruptive Tim Smith, who have all shown flashes of their potential.
Jamil Burroughs was working his way up the depth chart last season, plus there's Stephon Wynn Jr., Braylen Ingraham and Jah-Marien Latham.
Capping the impressive group are, count them, five freshmen, including three of the highest-rated prospects in the nation with Monkell Goodwine, Damon Payne and Dallas Turner. The Class of 2021 also included Tim Keenan and Anquin Barnes, who figure to be strong redshirt candidates.
Name another team in college football that could arguably go five deep on the defensive line this season. Most of these players will get on the field, but the competition for playing time with be fierce during fall camp and throughout the season.
2021 Crimson Tide Defensive Linemen
• Returning: LaBryan Ray, Tim Smith, Justin Eboigbe, Stephon Wynn Jr., Byron Young, Phidarian Mathis, Braylen Ingraham, Jah-Marien Latham, DJ Dale, Jamil Burroughs
• Departed: Christian Barmore, Ishmael Sopsher
This is the fifth story in a series previewing the 2021 Crimson Tide by position.