Bates a possibility for early playing time

With the Alabama newcomers finally on campus and practicing, the question being asked by most fans is ‘Which players have a chance to contribute this season?' Obviously an athlete must be gifted physically to play as a true freshman, but depth at his given position also factors into the equation. And very early indications are that Heflin's Todd Bates just might crack the playing rotation at outside linebacker.

Though last Sunday was the official reporting day for newcomers, Bates has actually been on campus for several weeks, having entered school early to get a jump on his conditioning. "I feel pretty good," Bates said. "But I also know I've got to get in even better shape. I've got to continue to push it to get in better shape."

Along with fellow freshman Freddie Roach, Bates is seen as a definite possibility to break into the playing rotation at linebacker.

Of course at this point it's impossible for even the coaches to say definitely which players will contribute and which others will redshirt. But practice observers can't help but note that Bates has displayed size, speed and a definite knack for getting to the football.

He's worked exclusively at strongside linebacker in early drills, but Bates has the potential to grow into a defensive end. "Todd is a very tall linebacker and big enough for defensive end possibilities," Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush said last winter. "On film, he's one of the top prospects we evaluated. He's an outstanding athlete...plays basketball, and plays it well."

Standing over 6-4 and currently weighing 235 pounds, Bates has the frame to put on more weight and move to the defensive line. But with Kenny King, Kindal Moorehead, Nautyn-McKay Loescher, Antwan Odom and Aries Monroe already listed at end for the Tide, there's little doubt that linebacker is Bates' best route for playing time in 2001. "Right now--as of this year--I'm a linebacker," he explained. "It's possible that in years to come I can be a defensive end. It depends on how big I get."

Before his last year of high school, Bates wasn't listed among the top state prospects. But an outstanding senior season propelled him into the recruiting limelight. After making more than 100 tackles, Bates was selected the Class 4A lineman of the year. Cleburne County High School Coach Mike Short said Bates reminded him of former Tide All-American defensive end Eric Curry. "Todd has the frame to be 260 or 270 pounds in college," Short said.

"I'm not trying to really get big, but I eat when I'm hungry," Bates said with a laugh. "I expect to eventually end up at 260 or something close to that. So far at least putting on weight hasn't affected my speed. I think I've got the frame to hold more. My Dad is a little taller than me and weighs about 280."

As a prep senior Bates accounted for 119 tackles, 12 sacks, five fumbles caused, five fumbles recovered and had three interceptions. On offense he caught ten passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns as a tight end. Bates was 11th on the Tuscaloosa News "Sweet Sixteen" list.

After signing with Alabama last winter, Bates finished up the basketball schedule and then threw himself into preparations for football. "I was about 210 last season at this time, so I've put on a lot of weight over the last year," he related. "I've matured some (physically), but I've also worked hard in the weight room. From the time basketball season ended until it was time to come (to Tuscaloosa), I worked really hard."

Taller and heavier than the average freshman outside linebacker, Bates has nevertheless shown good mobility in early pass coverage drills.

Like most head coaches, Franchione doesn't like to count on true freshman help when planning his pre-season depth chart. But along with fellow freshman linebacker Freddie Roach, Bates has impressed the Tide coaches. "Physically they could contribute this season," Franchione said. "It will depend on how quickly they pick up the defense and adjust to the game, but there's no doubt that they are physically ready to help us."

Obviously for either freshman to gain much playing time, they'll have to accelerate the normal learning process. But luckily for Bates (and Alabama fans), his position coach just happens to be one of the premier defensive coaches in the nation. "Coach Torbush, he's a nice guy," Bates said. "He knows what it takes to win, so he's basically just trying to teach that to us. He makes you want to leave it all out there."

Right now Bates modestly declines to name a particular strength one way or another--whether it be pass defense or run support. "I think I need to work on it all. I think I need to just keep at it trying to get better."

Linebacker or defensive end?

Long-term the answer is still unknown. But at this point Bates frankly doesn't care much one way or another. He just wants to play some football. "The coaches are just telling me that I'll be a linebacker depending on how big I end up," Bates said. "If I fill out a lot, I'll be a defensive end.

"But I just see it as a positive, whether I move to defensive end or stay at outside linebacker. It's fine with me."

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