Key defenders must step up

The potential is certainly there to repeat recent success. But if this year's Alabama defense hopes to approach its 2002 ranking, then several key athletes must elevate their game to the next level.

Competing as a redshirt freshman last season, Freddie Roach reached and exceeded most projections. He started 11-of-13 games and was Bama's sixth-leading tackler with 63. In general he showed the potential to be a prototype middle linebacker, filling the gaps and punishing the ball carrier when given the chance.

But Roach essentially shared the middle backer position with Derrick Pope, keeping pressure to a minimum. Pope will be back again, and undoubtedly he'll get his share of playing time. But with inexperienced lineman playing in front of him, Roach faces a real challenge. With Anthony Bryant and Ahmad Childress still maturing as starters, Roach won't have the same protection from blockers that he enjoyed next season--at least for the first few games.

Freddie Roach (#8) on the sidelines last season with Charlie Peprah (#26) and Roman Harper (#41).

He may be a couple of inches shorter than ideal for a cornerback, but what Anthony Madison lacks in height he more than makes up for in athleticism and good, old-fashioned "want to." Described by his position coach as the hardest-working athlete in the secondary, Madison had a very good spring and heads into fall as the starting cornerback opposite Charlie Peprah.

DB Coach Chris Ball isn't worried about Madison's size, explaining that strength, jumping ability and aggressiveness (all of which Madison has in abundance) should more than make up for any deficit. But though Madison played in every game last year, starting against Georgia, being No. 1 at the position will be brand new territory for the junior. Peprah is a proven ball hawk, so it's a sure bet that Madison will be picked on this fall. How well he responds to the pressure will be crucial to Bama's defensive success.

Senior Charles Jones is rock-solid at the free safety position, but Alabama is both young and unproven at the strong spot. Roman Harper has the size and speed to develop into an all-star, but obviously he's not there yet. He grabbed hold of the No. 1 position at the start of spring drills and is the projected starter heading into fall camp. Harper needs to add more strength and bulk to withstand the rigors of SEC play, but the mental part will be no problem. He isn't afraid of contact and proved to be a sure tackler during spring.

Carlos Andrews came on strong the latter part of spring drills, enjoying an outstanding A-Day scrimmage. (Shaud Williams may still be feeling the effects of a hard lick delivered by Andrews in that game.) Minor injuries and frankly a lack of conditioning have held Andrews back in the past. But Ball is optimistic that he is ready to play a key role next season.

Both Harper and Andrews have SEC talent, but neither has proven themselves during the season. In 2003 they'll get the chance.

Leslie Williams works out with Mark Anderson watching.

So long as they stay healthy, there are really no worries with Antwan Odom and Nautyn McKay-Loescher as starting defensive ends. Odom especially has elite physical ability, but both have the potential to contend for post-season honors.

But the problem is that successful defensive lines must have an effective playing rotation, and the Tide enters 2003 relying on unproven reserves. Mark Anderson has the look of a future star. He especially impressed his coaches after being moved from linebacker to D-End the last two weeks of spring drills. Anderson has continued to work hard over the summer.

For several reasons senior Leslie Williams has had an uneven college career. He's an excellent athlete, but he hasn't been able to add much weight to his lithe frame. But whether Williams' weight is ready or not, SEC competition is coming. As a pass-rush specialist, Williams can be dangerous to opposing QBs. But Bama must find a way not to leave him exposed in run defense.

The good news is that Anderson and Williams don't have to be stars. If they can just provide solid play as members of the D-End rotation, then Alabama's defensive line play has a chance to be excellent.


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