Linebacker scramble

There may have been a time early in the summer when Linebackers Coach Joe Kines slept peacefully, but recent changes to the lineup likely guarantee those days are passed. <br><br>At one point the Tide was set to return its entire two-deep lineup, but the departure of Brooks Daniels coupled with a recent injury to Cornelius Wortham has sent the Tide coaches back to the drawing board.

Wortham is expected back soon--though probably not until the Oklahoma game. Daniels has withdrawn from school, leaving the Tide with two big holes to fill versus South Florida. "Unfortunately injuries and things like that happen," Head Coach Mike Shula said. "We've got to continue to move forward. The next guy has got to step in. The starters have to pick their game up. The new guys have got to come in and step up to the plate."

With seniors Wortham and Derrick Pope back, Kines isn't worried about leadership. "You don't really get to lead until it gets hot and heavy," he explained. "Guys were trying to lead in early August, but all of that falls into place as you get closer to game week."

Pope walks off the practice field.

Senior Derrick Pope has made the biggest move. A co-starter last season with Freddie Roach at middle linebacker, Pope is capable of playing either inside or out. Though players will move around during the game, Bama's starting lineup versus South Florida will probably have him at strongside linebacker, Roach in the middle and Demeco Ryans handling the weakside.

Pope will be ready. "I think I'm a fierce athlete," Pope said. "That's all there is to it. I'm a competitor."

One play in Bama's first scrimmage illustrates the point. Sidestepping a would-be blocker on the goal line, Pope took a perfect angle on Shaud Williams, thumping him to the ground short of the end zone, prompting applause from his teammates.

Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines commented. "The play Pope made on the goal line was a big league play. He came a long way. The guy had only a yard to go. Derrick came from the backside, got leverage on him and kept him from scoring.

"That's effort. That's what the goal line is about: effort."

Next to Pope sophomore Freddie Roach has the look of a future all-star. He earned Freshman All-America status last season. Roach started 10-of-13 games in 2002, totaling 62 tackles.

At the third linebacker spot, Brooks Daniels left some big shoes to fill. Kines switched Ryans from strongside to weak at the start of fall camp, setting up a battle between him and Juwan Garth. "Juwan is a great athlete," Pope said. "He's got the speed and height. We've just got to put a little bit more weight on him.

"Demeco is a great athlete, too. He's a sophomore that played last year. He's a real talent. Demeco has the speed to play both inside and out. He's got great size for a linebacker."

Demeco Ryans should start at one linebacking spot.

As expected Ryans has the lead in that battle, but Garth should be more than solid as his backup. The problem for Kines is finding other athletes to fill out the playing rotation. If the Tide is to be two-deep at every position, which Kines believes strongly is necessary, then at least one true freshman must play. Terrence Jones, Demarcus Waldrop and Earnest Nance are the candidates.

Every freshman, no matter how talented, must adjust to big-time college football. "The thing that gets them is the speed of the game," Kines said. "We're going rapid-fire. Sometimes their heads get to spinning, and when their heads spin their feet won't run."

"The other thing that gets them is the mental part of the game. All of them have been well-coached fundamentally. They played for good high schools. But we're changing coverages on them every day. (The mental aspect) is their biggest problem, but once they settle in they'll be all right."

Earnest Nance (6-2, 203) is now fully recovered from a knee injury suffered his senior season of high school. Based on physical talent alone, he may have the best upside of all three true freshmen. Kines assessed his talent. "He's raw. Right now Nance is like one of those school buses. He's got a governor on his engine that's holding him back. Once he learns and can just let himself play, then he can be a good one. It may take him a little while, but he's certainly got enough athletic ability to be a player."

At 5-11, 178, Demarcus Waldrop obviously needs to add bulk, but Kines likes his ability. "His size doesn't bother me right now. As a ‘will' linebacker he'll be fine."

Based on mental preparation, Terrence Jones is ahead of the other three. "He was well-coached in high school and is very knowledgeable," Kines said. "Even though he's a freshman, he's got a nice way of studying film. He comes to the meetings very prepared.

Wortham represented Alabama at the recent SEC Media Days in Birmingham.

"If you had to rate them it would be hard to say ‘1, 2 or 3,' but I can't say enough good things about Terrence."

With South Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky all favoring the no-huddle offense, Kines knows the Tide will need all the warm bodies it can get early on. He explained, "If we were playing the split-back veer, we'd be okay. But we're not. We're playing the wide-open, run-and-gun. Everybody's shootin' and hollerin'. That's just the nature of today's game."

Last season's linebacking corps was among the best in the conference. Kines has talent to work with in 2003, but whether or not this group can be as good remains to be seen.

"It's like comparing grandchildren," Kines said. "You don't want to say this group is better than that group. What you've got to do is be as good as you can be. Right now we're sometimes doing some little silly things from lack of concentration. Athletically we're going to be fine. Effort-wise we're certainly going to be all right. We've just got to get lined up right.

"If we're as good as we can be, then we'll be all right."


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