TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- He stands 6-feet, 1-inch and weighs 284 pounds.
Sure, Alabama defensive lineman Nick Gentry is larger than the average male on the street. For a nose guard, however, he isn’t the prototype -- not in the world of 354-pounders such as former Crimson Tide star Terrence Cody and 310-pound starter Josh Chapman.
But that’s cool with Gentry.
Success in the trenches doesn’t necessarily require 300-plus pounds and weight-room records. The fifth-year senior from Prattville carves out precious playing time by taking advantage of his sedan-sized body in an SUV-heavy world.
“I’m not the biggest guy; everybody knows that,” Gentry said with a smile. “I don’t try to go out there and muscle people. I try to use my quickness to beat people. That’s what Coach Saban wants, and that’s what I try to do.”
And Saban likes what he sees from Gentry this August, while noting his speed and athleticism.
“He’s always had a role on our team, and he seems to be in better shape and is having a great camp and will maybe even make a larger contribution,” Saban said.
Playing all 13 games as backup nose guard last season, Gentry made 14 tackles, including one for a loss. Twice he hurried the passer. Although he recorded zero sacks, he has the reputation as a quarterback’s nightmare.
Chapman identified Gentry as the team’s top pass rusher.
“He knows how to use his hands,” Chapman said. “His technique’s pretty good. The guy can play almost every position on the line. He’s been here a long time.”
Long enough to be recruited by the last regime.
Gentry is one of the few team members who committed to the Alabama program coached by Mike Shula. At the time, the Tide ran a 4-3 defense that Gentry played at Prattville High School.
Shula was fired. In came Saban and the 3-4 defense with its two defensive ends and a nose guard but no tackle.
“I thought I was going to come in and play a 4-3; that’s what I’ve always played,” Gentry said. “I’m glad at learning this 3-4. It’s a whole lot different coming from that 4-3 background. We ran a little 3-4 in high school. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve enjoyed it.”
It wasn’t easy, though.
Gentry “always doubted” himself in his first three years at Alabama. It came down to his size.
“They want big guys on the ends and stuff,” he said. “I’ve never really played nose. I’ve always played end in high school. When I got down into the nose position, you pretty much had (Cody) and them coming in. When they came in, I realized I’m pretty much not tough enough to play defensive end. I’ve got to go with nose guard. I tried to learn every little technique I can to take advantage of what I have.”
Bo Davis, the defensive line coach from 2007-10, sat Gentry down last season and fed it to him straight. David told him speed would make the difference in the Alabama defensive front known for its size.
It’s about using the lower center of gravity and “throwing your hip into it,” he said.
“I mean, I’m not Josh Chapman; I don’t bench press 500 pounds,” Gentry said. “I try to split it. That’s what I try to do. They tell us to hang on to it, but I try to split it because I feel like, if I get in that gap, I can make the play. Dont’a (Hightower) and them love it because, if I split it, I get the guard, throw my hip into him and bounce him out of the way. Then we can both go make the tackle.”