LaBryan Ray Comments On Rising Sophomores, New DL Coach
LaBryan Ray hasn't gotten much attention over his three seasons at Alabama due to his unassuming personality and lack of playing time. But entering the 2020 season, he's one of the longest-tenured players on the team and the elder statesman of the defensive line group.
One of six 5-star recruits for Alabama in the Class of 2017, Ray's name may seem a bit out of place among the likes of Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, Najee Harris, Alex Leatherwood and Dylan Moses.
Buried on the depth chart as a freshman behind future NFL players like Daron Payne, Quinnen Williams and Isaiah Buggs, Ray's development was slowed by a temporary move to outside linebacker due to several injuries to that position group.
He continued to flash his potential once he moved back to the defensive line in 2018, starting one game as a sophomore, but he was still only a rotational player.
Then, after starting the first three games in 2019, Ray was sidelined for the rest of the year with a foot injury, having played fewer than 90 snaps in what was supposed to be a breakout junior season.
During a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Ray, now the unquestioned veteran of the D-line room, reflected on his season-ending injury and provided an update on his recovery as he enters his fourth year.
"I’m 100 percent now, so it feels good to be back," Ray said. "... It was a big learning experience for me. It’s something I definitely learned from, grew from and got better from, to be honest. It made me stronger.”
Now Ray returns to lead a deep and youthful crop of defensive linemen. After his injury last year, four of the team's top five linemen were freshmen -- one redshirt freshman (Christian Barmore) and three true freshmen (D.J. Dale, Justin Eboigbe and Byron Young). Eight of the team's 12 D-linemen are sophomores or freshmen.
Ray was asked on Wednesday about fellow defensive ends Barmore, Young and Eboigbe. Barmore was the breakout defensive player of last season, earning the trust of coaches and teammates with a consistent pass rush and a goofy sense of humor.
“Christian Barmore, that’s my guy," the normally stoic Ray said while breaking into a smile. "I think he’s a great player. He can play the run, pass-rush, I think he’s a big piece to it. ... He comes in to work, doesn’t say much. Just comes in to work, try to do his job on the field. He comes in and just tries to be the best version of himself.”
Young and Eboigbe had similar roles last season, with each gaining more snaps at defensive end after Ray's injury. Young started five games, including each of the last four, and Eboigbe started two games early in the season.
“They come to work every day and last year they took big strides," Ray said. "They’re getting better every day, even in fall camp this year, they’re coming to work and they try to do their jobs to the best of their ability.”
For the fourth consecutive year, the defensive line will have a new coach. With Brian Baker moving on to the Indianapolis Colts in February, coach Nick Saban announced the hire of Alabama alum Freddie Roach as the team's new DL coach.
Roach, who played at Alabama from 2002 to 2005, hasn't had many opportunities to coach his players on the field yet due to the cancellation of spring practice, but his players and his fellow coaches like what they've seen of him so far.
Ray called him a "great man" who has "done an outstanding job" of teaching and explaining the defense.
"I think the energy he brings to that room, being a little younger, I think the kids relate to him more," said defensive coordinator Pete Golding. "But it’s not a buddy system. He’s on their ass, he’s gonna make sure they do things right. He does a great job of understanding the defense... and breaking it down into their language and into their terms, and getting on the same page."