TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- First, it was D.J. Pettway who wandered away from the scouts and coaches to answer a few questions for the media.
And some 50 yards behind them another teammate, Darren Lake, went through his final set of drills in front of representatives of all 32 NFL teams, hoping to earn a spot on a pro roster whether that meant going through the draft or free agency.
Watching the quartet work during Alabama's pro day on Wednesday, it was easy to see why the Crimson Tide boasted one of the best defenses in the country last season, leading to the fourth national championship of coach Nick Saban's tenure in Tuscaloosa. More specifically, it was easy to see how the pair of potential first-round picks and two other future pros helped form one of the best defensive lines we've seen in college football in quite some time, leading the country in sacks, rushing yards allowed and general intimidation.
While the day's events were dedicated to the draft and players moving beyond Alabama, one didn't have to look far to see the Crimson Tide's future. There, on the sideline dressed in plain clothes was Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and others. There, some of the fixtures of the next defensive line observed a process they're likely to experience a year from now.
Even with Robinson, Reed, Pettway and Lake gone, don't be surprised if the best single unit on Alabama's roster is still the defensive line. If the chips fall the way many people expect, they could once again be the best position group in the country.
The case begins with the surprising return of Allen, who was a first-round pick in many mock drafts and said he received a second-round grade from the draft advisory board, but decided to come back for his senior season. Looking back at last season, you could argue he was the most well-rounded lineman Alabama had, leading the team in sacks (12) and tackles for loss (14.5).
Coupled with Williams, a hybrid D-end/linebacker, you could be looking at the best tandem of pass-rushers in the country. Williams, despite not starting a single game, finished the season with 10.5 sacks thanks to his incredible speed off the edge. And with another offseason to develop the rest of his game and morph into a starter and every-down player, the sky's the limit on his production.
But it's more than just those two.
At end, former five-star recruit Da'Shawn Hand returns for his junior year after coming on strong late last season and Dalvin Tomlinson is back as well after leading the team in batted passes. If hybrid end/linebacker Rashaan Evans can carry over the momentum of a national championship game in which he sacked Clemson's Deshaun Watson twice, then Alabama could have a serious third-down weapon.
If you're worried about Alabama's interior linemen now that Lake, Robinson and Reed are gone, rest easy. Whether 315-pound rookie Daron Payne is fueled by a Freshman All-SEC snub is beside the point when you consider he should only get bigger and better with experience. Joshua Frazier, a 315-pound reserve the past two seasons, looks to be a second option at defensive tackle. And Kendell Jones, a 360-pound signee out of Texas, could give Alabama added size against power running teams like Arkansas and LSU.
With numbers at every position, it's no wonder there's not any noticeable concern about the defensive line heading into next season. If anything, there's more excitement over how the unit will transform with a few new faces.
In spite of watching so many players prepare to head to the next level, even Saban seemed at ease during pro day.
"Y'all look awful serious over here," Saban told reporters. "Is there something to be serious about?"
Serious? Maybe. Worried? Maybe not.