One man goes down, two more step up

The loss of Brooks Daniels will be a blow to the Tide defense. There's no way to sugarcoat that hard fact. But when one player goes down, others step up to fill the gap. That's football. <br><br>And so it is with Demeco Ryans and Juwan Garth.

Ryans commented, "We had a great player go down in Brooks Daniels. I had a lot of respect for him. He's a guy that kept everybody going. He was the leader of the linebacking corps."

Head Coach Mike Shula began Monday's press conference with the bad news about Daniels. But after praising the All-SEC player's past efforts on behalf of the Tide, Shula quickly moved on to the present.

"We've moved Demeco Ryans over to the weak side," Shula said. "We plan to let Demeco and Juwan Garth battle it out for the starting job."

An multi-sport athlete in high school, Garth has worked hard to build himself into an SEC linebacker.

That's just the way it is in football. Adversity for one inevitably creates an opportunity for another.

"It's an opportunity," Ryans admitted. "It's time for me to step up. I've got to step up and play ball. I've got to do what anyone would do in this situation."

Garth agreed, "Things have changed tremendously. The thing with Brooks Daniels I really didn't expect. I was talking to my parents last night. I told them that now I've got to step it up.

"That's what I'm going to try to do."

The good news for Tide fans is that both Ryans and Garth are outstanding athletes. One of only two true freshmen to see action last season, Ryans can play any of the three linebacker positions. He played in every contest in 2002, starting versus Hawaii. Ryans finished the season with 27 tackles, one for a loss. He also recovered one fumble and had two quarterback pressures.

For his part, Garth could well be the top all-around athlete on the squad. He played offense and defense for his high school team, catching 42 passes and totaling 83 tackles as a prep senior. Garth also excelled at basketball, starting at center and leading his team deep into the state playoffs.

Garth spent last season as a redshirt, working behind Daniels every day in practice. "It shocked me," Garth said of Daniels' decision to withdraw from school. "It's a little bit more pressure on you. Those are big shoes to fill. Brooks Daniels was a great player. That makes me work a little bit more."

The battle between Garth and Ryans will be one of the more interesting stories of fall camp. But whichever player wins out, the other will certainly see plenty of action at weakside linebacker.

Ryans (right) shares a laugh with senior defensive end Leslie Williams.

"Coach Shula moved me over to the weakside, and I just started there today," Ryans said after Tuesday's first practice. "It's a little different (moving from the strong- to the weak-side), but it's all basically the same. The ‘Sam' and the ‘Will' just flip-flop positions. It's not too hard."

Plans could change, but for now Alabama will practice Garth and Ryans together at one linebacker slot, while Freddie Roach handles middle linebacker and senior Cornelius Wortham plays the strongside (usually lined up over the tight end). Senior Derrick Pope should see action both on the strongside and in the middle.

"The move involves a little different assignments," Ryans explained. "You're working on different gaps. But linebacker is linebacker.

"You've got to stay intense and get after it."

Heading into the season both players assumed they would be backing up senior veterans, with an eye toward starting in 2004. But ready or not, the linebacking spotlight now shines on them.

Garth commented, "I've been working hard in the off-season. I was planning on coming into the fall second string. Now I'm really glad I worked hard this summer."

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