Alabama Reloads With Will Lowery

It is often said about squads at the level Alabama plays football that the team doesn't rebuild, that it just reloads. Sounds good, but the truth can be proven otherwise. It takes good recruiting and/or good coaching to fill in the blanks when good players leave the program. Sometimes it doesn't happen.

Mark Barron hasn't left Alabama, but he won't be with the Crimson Tide when Bama goes into the Capital One Bowl game against Michigan State in Orlando on January 1. Barron, an All-America in 2010, suffered a torn pectoral muscle in Bama's final regular season game and is out of action for several months.

Alabama will reload with a walk-on.

Will Lowery, a 5-9, 188-pound sophomore from Hoover, first showed on the Crimson Tide depth chart in spring training nearly a year ago. He walked on in 2008 and was redshirted. In 2009 he had the exact same amount of game time as he had in his first year. Zero. But last spring he was impressive in Bama scrimmages, including the A-Day Game, where he worked with the first defense.

This year Lowery has been a mainstay on special teams and on defense in pass situations when the Tide goes to nickel and dime packages. He has been in on 30 tackles, the primary man on 19 of them. He has two interceptions and has broken up two passes.

Still, as Head Coach Nick Saban said, "Mark Barron is a guy you really can't replace, and Will should not play to replace him. He should just do his job the way he can do it best. That's what I always tell guys when they are taking the place of somebody that's been a really good player. Mark is the leading production guy for us on defense all year from his position. His experience and quality of performance and physical play is something any team would miss, but we have a lot of confidence in Will to go in there and do the right things and be in the right place. He's made some plays for us as well this year."

Saban said Lowery "is a guy who really has a great attitude. He's a hard worker, he's an overachiever. He's worked hard to get where he is in the program and he's made a significant contribution. He's one of our best special teams players. He's been role player for us on defense."

It should come as no surprise that as Lowery prepares for his first start that he is "very excited."

Lowery said his friends and family are "pretty fired up." But, of course, as he said, "They're buzzed about the fact that I even get to show up at the practice facility."

Lowery will get his first start against a Michigan State team that is 11-1. Kickoff on January 1 from the Florida Citrus Bowl stadium will be at noon CST with ESPN televising the game.

"They're a good team," Lowery said. "This should be a good game."

While this is obviously a big step for Lowery, he is really relatively low key. Regarding the suggestion that the Spartans might try to pick on Lowery as the most inexperienced man in the secondary, he shrugged. "They can try if they want," he said. "I'm just going to do my best. Anytime a quarterback wants to put it in the air, anytime a ball goes up, we consider it ours. The more they throw it, it's just more opportunities for us to make plays."

He added, "Whenever somebody goes down with an injury around here, it's just kind of expected. You step up and do your best to fill in. Everybody tries to do that."

As for how much his preparation will change now that he is the projected starter at safety, Lowery said, "Not much. I try to always prepare in case Mark ever goes down. he only time I ever had to go in was LSU for one play, so this will obviously be a little different, but I'll definitely be preparing very hard, trying to be ready mentally and physically."

He does expect to be held out of some special teams situations as he gets extra repetitions at safety. Lowery said his preparation for safety play would be similar to what he would have gotten if Barron had not been injured.

The domino effect touches others. Nick Perry, Phelon Jones, and Wesley Neighbors are others Lowery said will "be ready to step up wherever we're needed."

Lowery said Michigan State will "definitely be a big challenge. You don't win as many games as they did just by being average. They are a good team with good players. They are a lot like the SEC teams we play. they have big guys who come at you. They are smash-mouth."

Lowery said he would be able to make the calls. "I've made calls all year when I've come in on dime," he said. Robert Lester, everybody, we've been around awhile now, we know everything pretty well now. As long as everybody's on the same page, it'll be good."

Alabama's first three days of practice, closing out last week, were not so much in preparation for Michigan State as work on fundaments. Lowery said the practices have been beneficial "big time. I think physically as well as getting back to fundamentals. We've had a lot of guys banged up, and getting time off is always helpful to get your body recovered. And getting back to the fundamentals gets you back to the basics, whereas you may have come off of it a little when you just game plan every week."

Lowery admitted that this time a year ago he could not have pictured himself preparing to start for Alabama in a bowl game.

Still, he said, going into spring practice, "I knew I was going to get a chance to show what I could do. At that point, I knew I'd have an opportunity to get on the field, but I never really tried to think about where I'd be at this point. You just try to work as hard as you can and the best will turn out."

The Capital One Bowl will give him a bit of an audition for future playing time. " Anytime you get on the field, you're showcasing your talent and showing what you can do," he said. "It's another great opportunity to get out there and try my best and do my best for the team."

Lowery and his teammates hope to have fun in Orlando, "but our number one priority is s definitely the game," he said. "It's still a business trip, but we'll have a little fun on the side.

I'm hoping we get to go to SeaWorld. I've never been there."

And he's never been in a starting position for Alabama, either.

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