Bryant & Childress must step up

Last season's defense was as good as any in the nation, and the potential is there for Alabama's 2003 stop unit to be just as good. <br><br>But Coach Buddy Wyatt knows that for that to happen his two starting tackles have got to step their game up to the next level.

Both Anthony Bryant and Ahmad Childress played extensively last year in a back-up role. Physically, each man has the talent, but Wyatt knows that's not all it takes to be good. "They both have the ability to dominate physically," he pointed out, "but it's got to be mentally. In major-college football after awhile it's all mental.

"Are you mentally tough enough to go out there every play and prepare yourself to dominate?"

Alabama's most consistent defensive tackle this past spring, Childress walks off the field following a game.

Bryant played in all 13 games last season, earning a start in the season finale against Hawaii. He totaled 332 snaps on the season, finishing with 32 tackles, including three behind the line of scrimmage. Bryant also had four quarterback pressures, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

In his first season at the Capstone, Childress played in 12 of the Tide's 13 games, starting against Auburn and LSU. His snap total of 234 was cut short by a broken wrist suffered in the Auburn game. Childress finished with 24 tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage. He also had 10 quarterback pressures and a crucial 24-yard interception and return against Tennessee.

Both men clearly have the ability to compete in the SEC. But there is a world of difference between coming off the bench and starting. Conditioning will be key as the two tackles essentially double their playing time from last season.

Wyatt commented, "They've got to know that they're going to play significantly more than last year. Anthony and Ahmad have got to realize that they've got to be more consistent over longer periods of time."

Jarret Johnson and Kenny King were both drafted into the NFL. Four-year starters for the Tide, the two were undersized for tackle but still very dependable. Now the onus shifts to Childress and Bryant.

"You can't count on anyone else to do get the job done," Wyatt said. "Week in and week out they will have to be more productive than they were last year. This year people are counting on them."

One of the most powerful players on the squad, Bryant scatters the blocking dummies like bowling pins last fall.

"That's where the biggest improvement has to take place," Wyatt continued. "Not necessarily physically tougher, but Anthony and Ahmad have both got to become more mentally tough."

Just as important as their athletic ability, Johnson and King were team leaders. As part of a record six team captains last season, the two former starters' names and handprints are now enshrined at the foot of Denny Chimes.

Wyatt thinks his two tackles have the potential to develop into leaders, but he predicts that will happen over time. "It's a process," Wyatt explained. "You don't just step on campus as a leader. It's earned over a period of time. Now it's their job to go out there and earn that.

"When your teammates see you working hard and see you making plays, then they will follow you. Then you'll become a leader on the team."

Plenty of linemen look good getting off the bus. But productive line play in the SEC requires both maturity and a certain mindset. The best D-Tackles relish contact and actually enjoy mixing it up inside.

"It's a process," Wyatt said. "Anthony and Ahmad are not there yet, but they're on their way. I've seen some improvements."

Both Childress and Bryant are concentrating on conditioning this summer. Each man was frankly too heavy last spring, so losing weight is a key goal. Wyatt commented, "Success doesn't happen on Saturday; that's what they've got to realize. During the season it happens in practice on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday--and during those long summer months. That's when champions are built."

A crucial part of Buddy Wyatt's job this season will be helping his two tackles elevate their games to the next level.

Tide fans have been predicting greatness for both players since they first arrived on campus. So what will it take for Bryant and Childress to make it to all-star status?

Wyatt has the answer.

"You've got to be consistent," he replied. "You're not going to be an All American by having one or two great games. You've got to dominate week in and week out.

"If you do that in this conference, then people will start talking about you."

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