The departure of veteran Milo Lewis left Dixon as the only returning starter for Coach Chris Thurmond's cornerback corps. But Dixon points out that the unit isn't as young as some might think. "That inexperience is with the exception of Hirchel (Bolden). Hirchel started several games last year, and he played a lot his freshman year, too. So he has a lot of experience. Roberto McBride took a year off last season, but he also played his freshman year.
"People forget that. They think we don't have any experience, but we have guys that have been there."
Along with Bolden, Dixon was elected to represent the cornerbacks on the Tide Leadership Council. "Yeah, I guess I am the grizzled veteran now," he admitted. "I had to accept that, but I really accepted it last year. They kind of played musical chairs some on the right side, and I was looked on as the mainstay. So I've been doing that for a couple of years."
"It wasn't that long ago when I got here as a true freshman," Dixon continued. "But I feel like an old man now. I've been through a lot--seen a lot of things. But time passes by real quick."
As a true freshman, Dixon started six games, playing a total of 440 snaps. In his first year he had 26 tackles and one interception. As a sophomore he started the first seven games before a broken wrist limited his role. But he still managed 42 tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage and three pass breakups.
Heading into this season there is no question that the Maryland native is being counted on as a mainstay for the Tide secondary. "I think Gerald Dixon is playing pretty well," Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione said. "He's playing with the most confidence."
Commented Dixon, "I'll admit that they look at me for leadership. But they don't really count on me to hold down the whole side. Everybody has to play their role. I just hold down my part. I give encouraging words and try to help the guys out a little bit."
A lot has changed at Alabama from last season to now, but the new defensive philosophy could have the greatest impact on Dixon and his fellow cornerbacks. "I don't know if we've got a (corner) yet that can just blanket out his man," Franchione said. "But when I watch our guys play man-to-man, they're just about as good playing press as anything. So I think we'll press the issue. I don't think we'll be a read-and-react defense."
"If you watched North Carolina (where Carl Torbush used to coach) and TCU (where Franchione was last season), then you know we're going to be an aggressive style," Dixon added. "We're not going to lay back; we're going to come get you. We're confident in ourselves, and the coaches are confident in us to go out there and make plays. So we're coming after you."
About one thing Carl Torbush, Alabama's new defensive coordinator, is quite clear. The Tide cornerbacks will utilize an aggressive, in-your-face style of play. "We always play the ball, but sometimes the football comes out kinda quick," Dixon said. "But the quicker it comes out, the easier it is to make (interceptions)."
"I think the thing that (we're) looking for is consistency," Franchione said. "We want to keep the ball in front of us and yet still find a means to be aggressive. That's a (middle level) that's hard to attain. We're at a point now that we need to develop some consistency. If the corners just do what they're supposed to do--be consistent and play solid, the big plays will happen. All the corners are gaining confidence."
With new coaches and a new aggressive philosophy, the Tide cornerbacks should have more chances to haul in those INTs. And a defensive front rated among the best in the nation should also be decisive. "(Corners and D-Linemen) make each other," Dixon explained. "A couple of times the D-Line might not get off, but we try to cover for five seconds, and we might get a late sack. Then they get off well and put the pressure on and we make the interception, which makes us look good. So we complement each other."
"We're coming at them," Dixon continued. "We've got Kindal (Moorehead) back. We've got Kenny (King) coming off the edge. And Coach Torbush is bringing a blitzing style to us. That gives (the cornerbacks) more confidence to turn it loose. And even if we do make a mistake, we've got Aries (Monroe) and everybody coming after them."
His praise for the Tide linemen aside, Dixon is just as impressed with the large group of young talent assembled at the cornerback position. "It's amazing to see us make plays every day," he said. "Somebody new every day. Carlos (Andrews) made an outstanding play today. Thurman Ward, Roberto, Hirchel--even the new guys Anthony (Madison) and Charlie Peprah. They're making plays. They're coming along well.
"So if those people want to doubt us, let them doubt. Because we'll be back."