A starter at outside linebacker for most of his last two seasons, Gilbert was moved inside this spring to backup Saleem Rasheed. The move lowered his profile on the squad, but not his effort. "I'm a senior, and I want to go out on a good note," Gilbert said. "We're a little bit thin right now at D-End, so other than that I'm still a linebacker. I'm just doing whatever I can do to help this team."
Running back and forth at practice this week from linebacker drills to defensive-end work, the veteran athlete's willingness to sacrifice has not gone unnoticed. "It's a real credit to Darius," Defensive Line Coach Stan Eggen said. "Coach Torbush talked to him about it from a team standpoint, asking would he mind doing it with the opportunity of getting some more reps.
"Darius didn't bat an eye and said he would. He came in and has done extra work this week to catch up on some of the things we're doing (on the defensive line). It's a great tribute to him being a senior and thinking ‘team' before himself. It's a great example of being a team person."
As Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach, Carl Torbush has worked closely with Gilbert over the last few months. "Darius and I have a solid relationship," Torbush related. "He's been through a whole lot during his lifetime. He lost his father earlier, and then lost his mother last summer. That was a tragic blow to him and everybody in that community, because she was such a special person--a great leader there.
"I've seen him mature a bunch since January in a lot of different ways. I think his academics are important to him now. He's really worked hard in our off-season program."
If anyone on the team had an excuse to slack off this season, it would have been Gilbert. The death of his mother coupled with the loss of his starting job provided all the excuse he needed to simply play out the string in his final year of college football.
But he chose a different route. "I think as a senior (playing two positions) can help me out--being versatile and working at a second position," Gilbert said. "Coach Torbush talked to me. He asked me if I wanted to get a little work in there, because we are a little thin. Either way I'll do what I can to help."
Torbush explained; "He just wants to get on the field any way he can, and I think that says a lot about Darius Gilbert as a person. There are a lot of guys that as a senior would pout, put their head down and not be very happy. But I think he's man enough and understands the situation. He just wants to do whatever he can to help Alabama get back to where we need to be."
Recruited to Alabama out of Oxford, Gilbert appeared in all 11 games his first season on campus. During the 1999 SEC championship campaign, he started two games early before moving into a starting role permanently when Marvin Constant's career-ending knee injury forced a re-shuffling of the starting lineup. As a junior, he played opposite Saleem Rasheed at outside linebacker. In his career at Alabama, Gilbert has totaled 75 tackles (seven for a loss), nine pass deflections, one interception and one sack.
Gilbert arrived on campus in 1998 as a safety/linebacker prospect, so the defensive line is definitely something new. He explained; "Never--I don't think I've ever played D-End in my life. In high school I was a safety. I also played some corner--a little tight end. Going from cornerback to defensive end is not your normal route, but I'm 250 pounds now. I just kept growing."
Torbush agreed; "Darius' biggest problem was he continued to grow. He came in here less than 220 pounds, and now he's around 255--and it's not like he's fat or overweight. He's just big."
In fact, at 6-3, 255 pounds and blessed with solid speed and quickness, the current coaching staff believes Gilbert has probably been playing out of position the last two seasons. "That's what the coaches have been telling me lately," Gilbert related. "That I could have been a natural D-End. If I had a couple more years, then I could probably get pretty good at it. But I don't. Right now we're a little thin at the position, so I'll do what I've got to do."
"It would have been fun to have worked with him longer," Eggen said. "He's doing a good job. He's taken some snaps this week. We'll have to see how he progresses in terms of assignments, but he should give us some (help) in terms of pass rush. He's still playing linebacker, but yes. I would have enjoyed working with him. He's already got pretty good technique, and I hope I don't slow him down."
At 255 pounds, Gilbert actually brings more bulk to the position than some other athletes at defensive end. And his solid linebacker speed will definitely be an asset. "I think I've got a quickness advantage--especially off the edge," Gilbert said. "But what we need right now is somebody to stop the run. The pass rush will come around.
"It's not that hard. I'm an athlete. I'll do whatever I can. It's a little bit more physical down there, but I think I'm up to the task."
Playing two positions will give Torbush more options in his personnel groupings, but it should also provide more snaps for the senior. "Right now with Saleem playing as well as he is in the middle, it's going to be hard for Darius to play much at linebacker," Torbush said. "Saleem doesn't get tired much. Darius really is good off the edge."
Torbush continued; "We weren't unhappy with him at all. Darius is still going to play middle linebacker. It's just that with the injury to Antwan Odom and a little bit of lack of depth on the defensive line--Kenny King has been sick, and Kindal (Moorehead) is beat up a little bit--that gets him some reps there. It gives him more opportunities to get on the field. He'll end up playing at both places."
At his press conference Tuesday Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione listed Freddie Roach as a newcomer likely to see his first action versus UTEP. The true freshman obviously has a promising career ahead, allowing the coaches to play Gilbert some on the D-Line. "You might see Freddie Roach this week, or you might not," Gilbert said. "Freddie can help at middle linebacker, but he's not suited to the line.
"If he has to play, I think he's ready. He's definitely got the strength, and he knows what to do. It's up to him to go out there on the field and do it. I'm a senior, but if I can go down and play D-End--play some linebacker, then that will help out."
"Like I said, I'm just doing whatever I've got to do to help the team."