Anderson impresses in first start

It's a truism as old as football. A backup player never knows when his opportunity will come, so he's got to be ready all the time. <br><br>Saturday was Mark Anderson's chance, as the sophomore earned his first collegiate start at defensive end.

Senior Nautyn McKay-Loescher was called back to Canada to testify at a legal proceeding, which opened the door for Anderson. "I had been waiting on the opportunity to get the starting job for awhile," Anderson said afterwards. "When I found out Nautyn wasn't playing, I knew I had to come out and make the plays."

Anderson was officially credited with three tackles, but he was extremely active all game long, helping to disrupt the Southern Miss offense. "Mark had a very good game," Defensive Ends Coach Paul Randolph said. "He had a lot of production and was very active in all phases, special teams and defense."

Showing off his impressive wingspan, Mark Anderson swoops in to make the tackle versus Southern Miss. (Barry Fikes photo)

As the first player off the bench at defensive end, Anderson has played in every game this year for Alabama, totaling 16 tackles. But his first start was special. Anderson commented, "It was all good. I was out there having fun, playing the best I could. You just run around, try to make plays and have fun."

More than one post-game pundit suggested that Anderson showed potential to start on a permanent basis.

"We'll wait later in the week to worry about starters," Randolph said. "Nautyn being a senior and a leader--plus he was playing well before--I think he'll still start. But I know what I have. I think I have three starters. I have three very good ends right now."

Naturally every athlete wants to be first string, but for Anderson it's all about the playing time. He took 53 snaps Saturday as a starter, but coming off the bench the previous week against Georgia he still totaled 49.

"The past two weeks I've played more," Anderson said. "I played 50-something snaps Saturday, but I wasn't even tired. Usually I get tired, because I play so much special teams and defense. But Saturday I was mainly on defense."

Actually Anderson's special teams snaps didn't go down by much from the previous week (eight Saturday versus 13 against Georgia), but no doubt adrenaline kept him going. Anderson said, "I've worked on my conditioning. I can keep my wind. I know to work hard in practice."

Anderson especially enjoys his role as a pass rusher. "I got a chance Saturday to go out there and show some pass-rush moves," he said. "It was fun. I wound up with 1 ½ sacks. The coaches had me sharing one with Demeco for a half sack. I'll take it."

Anderson watches in the Tide weight room. Now listed at 239 pounds, he wants to eventually play in the 255-260 range.

With all-star candidate Antwan Odom on the opposite side, Alabama's defense targeted the Golden Eagle quarterback, totaling five sacks for the game. Anderson commented, "We're on the edge, and we aim for the quarterback in the center. That's our main thing, rushing the passer and try to make some plays."

Even on downs when he was blocked, Anderson showed the presence of mind to get his hands up and alter the quarterback's sight line. "Mark's a football player," Randolph said. "He understands and has a good feel for the game. When guys are not able to get to the quarterback, get your hands up. If the blockers are soft-setting on you, get your hands up."

As a two-way player for Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Anderson totaled 104 tackles and nine sacks his senior year. He redshirted his first year at Alabama and played all last season as a linebacker. But he moved back to the defensive line last spring.

"Mark has a good knowledge of the game," Randolph pointed out, "which helps when you make a position move. That helped him move from linebacker to defensive end."

"I feel comfortable now," Anderson added. "I came in as a defensive end, and it looks like that's how I'm going to fit in with this defense."

At 6-5 he's got the height for the position, but Anderson knows he will need to add weight to become an every-down player in the SEC. "Oh yeah, next year I want to play at around 255," he revealed. "Right now I'm at about 239. This summer I'm expecting to be big. I need to get bigger."

Shown pursuing the play, Anderson has been Bama's first player off the bench at defensive end all season. (Barry Fikes photo)

No doubt the extra bulk will help against the run, but Anderson's position coach isn't worried. "I tell him that he's plenty big enough right now," Randolph said. "Just keep working hard and gaining natural weight, which he will. He wants to put the weight on faster than he is, but I think he'll be fine. If we can get him a bit heavier this year, a little bit stronger, then he'll keep growing the way he needs to.

"He'll be a big guy by the time he leaves here."

Barring injury Anderson likely won't become a permanent starter until at least next season, but his future looks bright.

"In my eyes Mark is a starter," Randolph said again. "He plays well every chance he gets. To me he's been getting better each week, and this past week he showed that as a starter. He showed in the game what we see in practice. He's a talent, and he's only going to get better."

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