Some off-season thoughts on the nose tackle position at Alabama.
Ivory (99) made 11 starts at nose tackle in 2013.
What we know: With 46 combined game appearances the past two seasons to their credit, Ivory and Lake have played a lot of football. While both have made gradual improvement, neither has made UA fans forget about Terrence Cody and Josh Chapman, prototype 3-4 anchors who were either double-teamed or disruptive when they weren't.
What we don't know: Alabama's three national championship teams since 2009 all had exceptionally strong players in the middle of the defense. Opposing offenses in each of those seasons were forced to double-team guys like Cody, Chapman and Jesse Williams. That wasn't the case as much in 2013. Instead, UA linebackers were forced to deal with offensive guards and centers who were able to reach the second level on a fairly consistent basis.
Best of the bunch: Upon seeing Ivory for the first time in 2010, I wasn't convinced he would ever play a meaningful snap for the Crimson Tide. A commitment to reshaping his body, however, paid dividends as the one-time unheralded recruit eventually worked his way on to the field. Four years later, the question heading into 2014 is, has he reached the ceiling of his potential?
Needs to make a move: Lake has nose tackle measurables but he needs to do a better job of playing to them. He came to UA without much in the way of technique or an understanding of line play in general. From that standpoint, Lake might benefit from the return of Bo Davis to the coaching staff as Davis' best work in his first stint with UA came with the nose tackles.
Kirven's first few years in the program have been similar to what Ivory underwent. Both required complete physical overhauls before either could see the field. As a redshirt freshman in 2013, Kirven, whose body type lends itself more to the end position in a three-man front, saw action in five games.
As for Ball, he's coming off a forgettable season that saw him undergo an emergency appendectomy in August before breaking his foot a month later. Ball checked in at 270 pounds last season and isn't a realistic option at nose tackle in the base defense. Instead, he's better suited for interior pass rushing duties.
Don't be surprised if ... : With Alabama playing a good bit of four-man front against spread teams, look for more athleticism to be incorporated into the front. That means the possibility of defensive end A'Shawn Robinson and junior college transfer Jarran Reed working inside together. If Ivory or Lake can't consistently demand and handle double teams from the look, getting big playmakers on the field would seem to be the most logical step.
Robinson showed that ability as a freshman in 2013 and a quick look at Reed's tape from his final season at East Mississippi Community College reveals a versatile guy who was effective while working at both the three-technique (four-man) and nose tackle (three-man) positions. He's also a good bet to see time at the five-technique end position in UA's three-man front.
Help on the way: We can speculate about the need for a true nose tackle in the spread era, but UA's dogged pursuit of 370-pound Matt Elam during the latest recruiting cycle tells you that the position still has a place in the Crimson Tide defense. Seeing as how it wasn't a given that Elam, who committed to Kentucky yesterday, would have made an immediate impact, the guys already mentioned in this piece are the ones most likely to work at the spot in 2014.
With Elam apparently out, the focus will shift to the development of Josh Frazier (6'3, 335), a four-star prospect by 247sports.com who was constantly double-teamed on the high school level. While Frazier has some body work to do, he brings some push-the-pocket ability to go along with his ability to plug the run. He's joined on Alabama's current commitment list by OJ Smith, a 6-foot-2, 320-pounder who, assuming he sticks with UA and qualifies, projects as a nose tackle.