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Alabama redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Quinnen Williams (92) / Kent Gidley/Alabama photo

Defensive lineman Quinnen Williams put on the "freshman 15" and then some at the University of Alabama, and he didn't stop there.

The redshirt sophomore arrived in Tuscaloosa as a 250-pound defensive end but is now a 6-foot-4, 305-pound defensive tackle with the task of replacing NFL first-round pick Da'Ron Payne. In most cases, putting on 55 pounds while in college is not a healthy aspiration, but Williams is quick to smile as he praises coach Nick Saban, strength coach Scott Cochran and the entire Crimson Tide nutritional staff.

"It feels great," Williams said this week in a news conference. "I haven't gained weight in fat but in muscle to where I can be a dominant player out there."

Alabama practiced Tuesday afternoon for two hours in full pads.

Williams checked in at 285 pounds as a redshirt freshman last season, when he played in all 14 games, made 20 tackles and ranked fourth on the team with 6.5 tackles for loss. He got an opportunity this past spring to take over the spot vacated by Payne, the 13th overall pick with the Washington Redskins, and hasn't given Saban any reason to look elsewhere.

"He has really played well," Saban said in a recent news conference. "He's one of the guys who I am really proud of and probably exemplifies all the things I talk about. If you look at him as a young player and how he's developed and what he's grown into — improving himself physically, having a lot of maturity, really plays with a lot of effort, really smart player — I think he is one of our most productive guys up front right now."

Williams was a solid four-star signee in 2016 out of Birmingham's Wenonah High School, but he had to travel the familiar Alabama path that often begins by having to be patient. While he was redshirting that first season, he was learning under junior defensive end Da'Shawn Hand, who was a fourth-round pick of the Detroit Lions this year.

The more weight Williams put on, however, the more he also had to study Payne inside. Now Williams has some of the biggest shoes to fill on a program that had a school-record 12 players drafted, but he doesn't see it that way.

"I'm just focusing on the team," he said. "Everybody has my back, and I have everybody's backs. I am just doing my job and not thinking that I have to be nervous about anything.

"There will be a big target on all of us, but it's not something we're focusing on."

The emergence of Williams inside on a defensive front that contains senior Isaiah Buggs and junior Raekwon Davis has given Alabama an undeniable strength on a unit having to replace eight starters from last season's national champions. Williams credits Saban for giving him the confidence to shift inside and Payne for the message of learning every position up front in order to enhance his NFL prospects.

Williams said the biggest difference playing inside is having to face more double teams on power runs, and he can't stress enough that having to follow Payne is anything but a curse.

"I'm glad I get to follow him," Williams said. "I got to learn from him and see the things he did and the way he ran to the ball and the way he carried himself on and off the field. I saw the way he ate and the way he acted — it all stood out."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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