The O-zone: Replacing DeMarcus Walker

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- On Wednesday, seven recruits enrolled early at the University of Alabama, nine if you include walk-on quarterback Luke Del Rio and converted baseball player Jai Miller, but one player was significantly absent -- ESPN 150 defensive end DeMarcus Walker.

Walker committed to the Crimson Tide in August, and his plan was to leave for Tuscaloosa the day after the BCS Championship Game where he would enroll early. However, he flipped his pledge to Florida State immediately after the game, following former UA assistant coach Jeremy Pruitt to Tallahassee. He arrived on FSU’s campus Tuesday.

With Walker no longer a part of the class, Alabama will look to replace him and add at least one, if not two elite defensive linemen. This week’s O-zone breaks down potential options along the defensive line and also takes a look at who's all visiting the Capstone this weekend.

Finding a replacement

Although the loss of Walker hurt, Alabama has plenty of potential options who can replace him. First off, the staff has to feel good about its chances to flip ESPN 150 defensive tackle and Auburn commitment Dee Liner, who has similar size and plays a lot like Walker. One current Tide commit said he’s confident that Liner will end up signing with Alabama before it’s all said and done. Alabama also plans to host ESPN 300 defensive linemen Jay-nard Bostwick and Tim Williams this weekend, and former USC commitment Eddie Vanderdoes -- ranked No. 33 overall -- is also trying to set up a visit to Tuscaloosa before signing day. Even Kenny Bigelow, the nation’s No. 2 defensive tackle, tweeted about wanting to take a visit to Alabama while he was in Texas for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

New DE target

There hasn’t been a player who has helped his stock more in the last month than Mississippi State commitment Chris Jones. The 6-foot-7, 260-pound defensive end was dominant in both the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game and the Under Armour All-America Game, and now he’s no longer a secret in the recruiting world. In the last month alone, Jones received new scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ole Miss and Tennessee. He says he’s still solid with Mississippi State, but he’s considering taking a couple of visits, and Alabama is one possible destination. On the Tide -- “They’re a championship team. They create champions, and I can be that,” Jones said. The UA staff has also been doing its best to flip the Mississippi native.

“They say a commitment is like an engagement," Jones said. "You’re not married until you get the ring on. They said, ‘You’re not married to State. You’re just engaged to them. You can always have a divorce.’”

Bama makes the cut

As Alabama continues to piece together its 2013 class, it received good news Tuesday from an elite defensive line prospect in the 2014 class. ESPN Watch List defensive end Da’Shawn Hand, considered by most to be the nation’s top junior, put the Tide in his top five that he released on Twitter. The other finalists include Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia Tech. Ohio State just missed the cut. Hand visited Tuscaloosa over the summer and when asked what stands out Alabama, he responded, ‘Everything.’

“They have all the pieces, as far as the academics, the civil engineering program is amazing," Hand said. "I talked to the dean when I was down there. I love the coaching staff, the players, the campus. The environment is great. I can see myself living there.”

Read: 2014 star DE Hand releases his top five

Fighting off the Hogs

If there’s one position where Alabama does have a lot of depth, it’s running back, but the Tide are still doing everything they can to keep ESPN 150 running back Altee Tenpenny in the class. However, it hasn’t been easy trying to fend off Arkansas, who continues to make a strong push to keep the elite talent in state. Tenpenny talked to the UA staff the night before the BCS Championship Game, and the Tide commitment will take his official visit to Alabama this weekend with his family. He plans to take his official visit to Arkansas the following weekend. Fellow Bama commitments aren’t sure what the running back is going to do, but Tenpenny told TideNation on Tuesday that he’s 100 percent committed to Alabama. “It’s been stressful,” he said. “I’m just ready to sign now.”

Weekend visitors

After Monday’s win over Notre Dame, Alabama coach Nick Saban said the team had just two days before they start looking ahead to next year. It’s only fitting that Saban and the rest of the staff will host one of its biggest recruiting weekends of the year less than a week after winning the national championship. In addition to Bostwick, Williams and Tenpenny, the Tide are also expecting five-stars Matthew Thomas and Laremy Tunsil to be on campus for their official visits as well as ESPN 150 safety Antonio Conner. A small group of Alabama commitments, which includes ESPN 300 stars Maurice Smith and ArDarius Stewart, will also make their way to Tuscaloosa this weekend.

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