Nascent star playing Rover

Tide fans have grown accustomed to cheering for Saleem Rasheed the last few seasons, and most experts agree that the middle linebacker could be looking at a pro future one day. But according to his teammates at least, the newest Bama starting linebacker could be even better. But don't expect Brooks Daniels, Alabama's No. 1 'Rover' and the object of that praise to agree. "I've heard that, but I try not to pay attention."

"There are 11 guys on the (defense), and if everybody does their job then everybody deserves the credit," Daniels continued. "The starters up front, the linebackers and the DBs, if they don't do their job then we'd be in trouble. But we're going to do that job."

Though his minutes as a true freshman were limited, Daniels has already gained a reputation as one of the best athletes on the Tide squad. (NOTE: Brooks isn't squinting; he took a finger in the eye during practice the day this photo was taken)

The job, of course, is returning a Crimson defense fallen on recent mediocre times to the glory days of its not-so-distant past. "I think the (defense) is doing very well," Daniels said. "At first we were a little sluggish, but we stepped up. We're running to the ball and making tackles. I think we could be pretty good."

Daniels arrived on campus last fall weighing a slender 185 pounds. But from the beginning the Bama coaches knew they had something special and rushed him onto the field right away. Subbing mostly at weak-side linebacker, Daniels played in every game totaling 14 tackles and a sack. Though he obviously contributed in a backup role, some have questioned whether throwing a talented but undersized player into the fray was worth a year of eligibility.

But as Daniels sees it, last season is done, and he's worked hard to improve himself athletically. "I've put on about 20 pounds since last year," he related. "And I believe I'm faster. I put on muscle and not fat, so the way I put it on actually helped me build my speed. I'd say I have gotten faster."

With both Rasheed and former prep strong safety Victor Ellis as returning starters, Bama's linebacking corps was already fleet. And when you add Daniels to the mix at Rover, things suddenly get interesting for opposing offensive coordinators. "I think we're probably one of the fastest linebacking units in the country," Daniels agreed. "With Saleem in the middle, Vic on the outside and me, I'd say we'd at least be in the top 10 speed-wise."

Alabama's new defensive coordinator, Carl Torbush, arrived in Tuscaloosa with a national reputation as a defensive coach. And Torbush's specialty has always been developing and then sending to the NFL talented linebackers.

He only weighs 205 pounds, but Daniels is easily one of the biggest hitters on the Tide defense.

While he often kids that the now 205-pound Daniels is "too skinny" to be in his unit, Torbush recognized quickly that he had found a perfect athlete for his hybrid ‘Rover.'. "A lot of people don't know what a Rover position is," Daniels said. "Sometimes you'll see me covering a receiver. Sometimes you'll see me over the line like an end, and sometimes you'll see me at linebacker. I'd say it's a multiple position, because you do a little bit of everything."

So might Tide fans have another ‘Freak' on their hands like Javon Kearse, late of the Florida Gators and now in the NFL? "I don't know about the nickname," Daniels protested with a laugh. "It's just a matter of working hard in the off-season. I've been getting stronger and bigger so I can be able to do all three things."

Daniels and his teammates stayed on campus all summer, working to improve themselves. But nothing can prepare an athlete for the physical challenge of two-a-days. "Being out here in the sun can be a shock to the system," Daniels explained. "But the coaches give us plenty of water breaks. They take care of us so we can go out there and perform.

"Just working out in the summer is not the same thing. It's totally different with your pads. That's why we try and run extra in the summer and do those extra things, because we know how hard it will be with the pads on."

Fall Camp is done, and the Tide has now moved to a more focused preparation for their opening-day match with the UCLA Bruins. Said Daniel, "I've been working hard on coverages. I need to improve my drops on pass coverage."

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