D-Line spotlight shifts to Odom

With three of last season's four starters now plying their trade in the NFL, there are legitimate question marks surrounding Alabama's defensive line. But no one is worried about Antwan Odom... <br><br>No one on the Alabama sideline, at least.

The Tide totaled 44 sacks last season, ranking it among the best in the SEC. "We did better last year pressuring the quarterback," Antwan Odom acknowledged. "That was one of the big things we wanted to accomplish."

Alabama's 2002 defense was definitely good. The stop unit finished the season ranked third in the nation, yielding a stingy 257.3 yards per outing. Only TCU and Kansas State were ranked higher, and both those schools played considerably easier schedules than did the Tide.

Odom sacks the MSU quarterback. (Associated Press)

Odom himself finished with 10 quarterback sacks to lead the team in that category. Though he was inexplicably overlooked for post-season honors, he was the SEC's second-best sack man.

"Most of the season we did a good job getting off the ball," Odom said, commenting on last year's unit. "We beat our blocks and got pressure in the backfield. We stunted a lot."

Listed at 6-5, 273 pounds, Odom was described by one Alabama coach as "a first-round NFL draft choice waiting to happen." His combination of size, strength and speed make him frankly dangerous coming off the end, rushing the passer--talents definitely coveted by the pros.

Most of the publicity last year went to Bama's three senior lineman--and rightly so. Kindal Moorehead, Jarret Johnson and Kenny King were all excellent players, which was proven in the NFL draft.

But when it came to rushing the quarterback, Odom took a back seat to no one. Was he bothered by the double-teams?

"Not really," he replied. "As the season went along (opposing offenses) started to put the running back on me a lot, plus the offensive tackle. The blockers started cutting me a lot, too. Sometimes the tight end would come over and help the tackle."

Moorehead, Johnson and King are gone now, and this year the publicity spotlight will shift. Together with fellow lineman Nautyn McKay-Loescher, this year's Tide starting ends will be very good.

Alabama's leading sacker last year with 10, Odom is looking to improve on that performance in 2003.

But Odom doesn't worry about the pressure. "You just do the same thing," he explained. "Work to get off the ball quickly, then get off your block. Get back there as quickly as you can and hit the quarterback--whichever quarterback is back there."

Defensive Ends Coach Paul Randolph made a good point recently. When asked how good his twin defensive ends could be, he said that depends in large part on the play of Bama's tackles. Anthony Bryant and Ahmad Childress certainly have talent, but this will be the first time they have been called on to start full time.

If all four of Bama's down linemen play well, then opposing offenses won't know who to double-team, freeing up everyone to have a good year.

Odom commented, "The defensive line was on a roll last year. But I think we can continue this year. We're pretty confident. We'll be ready."

NOTE: Odom has been just a tad preoccupied recently. Antwan and his wife are expecting their first child any day now. The couple plans to name the child Antwan Jr.

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