Building for the future: Defense

With Alabama currently sitting at 3-3 and struggling to achieve a winning record, fans, players and especially the coaches are naturally focused on the season. But Dennis Franchione was brought in to rebuild an entire program, too long lax and undisciplined. <br><br>So it's important to remember that a foundation is being laid for future years. And virtually every true freshman is being redshirted, including six defensive players and a placekicker.

Mark Anderson, 6-6, 215, Defensive End

Along with excellent speed ‘off the edge,' Anderson also has displayed a knack for batting down attempted passes.

Out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Anderson arrived on campus a tall, almost slender athlete--definitely in need of a year in the weight room to gain strength and bulk. But frankly the Tide coaches are excited about his potential. Anderson has very good speed and maybe even better instincts for rushing the passer, making him the ideal "flash" guy off the edge of the defense.

Under Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush, the Alabama ends don't have to be as heavy as Tide fans are probably used to. In recent years Kindal Moorehead (293 pounds) and Kenny King (277 pounds) have typified the size of Bama D-Ends. But Torbush believes in pressing and attacking the line of scrimmage. And speed off the edge is a key component of the plan.

Obviously other athletes will be in the mix, but the coaching staff is excited about the long-term prospects of Anderson and Todd Bates as ‘bookends,' working on the edge of the Alabama defensive line.

Todd Bates, 6-4, 225-230, Defensive End

So far, Bates holds the distinction of being the only true freshman to play this season.

Speaking of Bates, he is of course the only true freshman to see action so far in 2001. Probably 10 pounds or so heavier than Anderson, he was better prepared physically for the rigors of SEC play. He obviously needs to put on 20-30 pounds of muscle to achieve his full potential, but Bates easily has the frame to carry those added pounds. And the weight-room coaches report he should put the weight on quickly.

Originally the plan was to redshirt him as well, but when a shoulder injury first slowed, then sidelined Antwan Odom for the season, Bates was pressed into service at defensive end. So far he has competed in four of Bama's six games, totaling five tackles. But his real value has been in disrupting opposing offenses. He has a quarterback hurry and two fumble recoveries to his credit, one of which he returned 27 yards to set up a key touchdown versus Arkansas.

Though still undersized and a true freshman, Bates has been described as "the most physical" of all the defensive linemen. The coaches aren't saying that the Heflin native is the strongest member of the D-Line, but rather they're referring to the fact that Bates plays full-out on every down--a habit that the new staff clearly wishes would rub off on some of the older and (currently) more talented players.

Roman Harper, 6-1, 180, Free Safety

Very intelligent and a gifted athlete, Harper (#41) is expected to play at free safety. That's Anthony Madison (#38) on the left.

A former option quarterback out of Prattville, Harper provides a ray of hope for those fans worried about Alabama's secondary. The coaches gave him a quick look at cornerback when he first arrived, but it was quickly determined that Harper's future would likely lie at free safety.

He's a very smart young man, which bodes well for his ability to pick up the defensive schemes quickly. Though Harper has had to adjust to playing defense full-time, he displays good instincts at free safety. And just as importantly Harper isn't afraid of contact. However, he obviously needs to work hard during this season and next winter to increase his strength, while adding some bulk to make tackling easier.

Given the Tide's struggles defending the pass, Harper could probably have helped some this season. But ideally he needs a redshirt year, and the coaching staff has held firm to that decision. But look for Harper to at least work himself into the playing rotation at safety next season.

Juke King, 6-2, 205, Strong Safety

At 6-2, 205, many wonder whether King (#45) will end up at safety or outside linebacker.

One of the more intriguing newcomers last fall, fans wonder where King will ultimately end up playing on the Tide defense. Strong safety? Free safety? Or even outside linebacker? Which one is King's natural position?

Early on he received some work at outside linebacker, and more than one practice visitor has come away with the report that "he looks like a linebacker to me." But since August the coaches have worked King at safety, which appears to be where he's most likely to wind up.

King has solid speed and a good frame, easily capable of adding 10-15 additional pounds of muscle. Assuming he stays at strong safety, King isn't that far away physically from competing. And while he has a lot to learn regarding college coverages, he displays promise in run support. Of course if nature (and the training table) decree him to be an outside linebacker, King's timetable for playing could be delayed.

Anthony Madison, 5-9, 180, Cornerback

Though barely 5-9 in height, Madison's strength and quickness should allow him to compete effectively at cornerback.

Madison was only a partial qualifier, so NCAA rules dictated from the beginning that he must sit out his first season on campus. But even if he were eligible, it's almost certain that Madison would have redshirted along with the rest of the newcomers.

Size and instincts make it almost certain that Madison will spend his career at cornerback. The Thomasville native is listed at 5-9, though he may be a tad shorter. After practice one day, he was sitting on the bench, cutting off his ankle tape, while JUCO transfer Shaud Williams was being interviewed by a reporter. Fellow true freshman Brandon Brooks stood nearby. Football players (and coaches) can be brutal in their sense of humor, and as Strength Coach Ben Pollard walked by he quipped, "What is this? Interview only players under 5-8 day?"

The good news is that Madison is powerfully built, and he isn't afraid of the weight room. And cornerbacks with the size (and willingness) to muscle up on usually softer receivers can minimize their height disadvantage. Madison is a good athlete, but he may need a year or so to work himself into the top tier at cornerback.

Charlie Peprah, 5-11, 184, Cornerback

One of the most gifted athletes in this year's class, Peprah should compete for a starting job next season at corner.

Any fan searching for evidence that the current staff is building a solid foundation for the long term need look no farther than Charlie Peprah. In practice Peprah works with the second unit at cornerback, and there is little doubt that he could compete effectively this season. Interestingly, if safety was viewed as his natural position, he may very well be playing right now.

A prize recruit plucked by the staff out of Plano, Texas, Peprah was worked early on at safety as well, but the coaches think he may represent Bama's future at cornerback for years to come. And though none of them are currently playing all-star caliber football, Gerald Dixon, Hirchel Bolden, Thurman Ward, Roberto McBride and Corey Ferguson provide enough numbers at corner to allow Peprah to keep his redshirt.

Peprah is very fast and extremely athletic, displaying some flash and solid tackling ability for cornerback. Back in August when the newcomers met with reporters, Peprah quickly wowed the assembled writers with his thoughtful answers, so intelligence is definitely a strength. Best of all, though still young he plays with a natural instinctiveness, too often missing in recent years among Tide cornerbacks.

Barring injury, expect Peprah to play next season.

Freddie Roach, 6-2, 230, Middle Linebacker

Such expectations are probably unfair, but Roach is seen by many as Alabama's next star linebacker.

Just like Peprah and Bates, if needed Freddie Roach could be competing effectively for the Alabama defense this Saturday against Tennessee. Along with his ability coordinating defenses, Carl Torbush has an even more solid reputation for coaching linebackers. And he has referred to Roach as "one of the best prospects I've ever scouted." Starting middle linebacker Saleem Rasheed along with solid backup play from senior Darius Gilbert have provided the luxury of redshirting Roach, but make no mistake. The Killen native could play right now.

Roach is listed on the pre-season roster as weighing 225 pounds, but the coaches report he's closer to 235 with the ability to easily add more. But as practice observers will attest, Roach looks lighter. He moves with the easy grace of a natural athlete, and the coaches believe he could end up at 240 pounds or more without losing any speed.

With sophomores Brooks Daniels and Cornelius Wortham on the outside and Roach in the middle, the Bama linebacking corps should be in good shape for the next several seasons. There are persistent rumors that Rasheed (only a junior, but scheduled to graduate this December) might leave early. But even if Rasheed returns for his final season, expect Roach to push him for playing time.

Mike McLaughlin, 6-1, 190, Placekicker

The opportunity will be there next season, but McLaughlin will have to win the placekicking job on the field.

As most knowledgeable fans know, placekicker is one of the most difficult positions to project on the college level. Several factors are involved. There is no way to duplicate the speed of the game, and many prep kickers simply can't adjust to faster, more athletic rushers. Virtually all high school stadiums are open at each end, guaranteeing that wind will distort kicking distances--especially a factor in kickoffs. And of course every year scores of placekickers that starred in high school fail miserably in their efforts to adjust to kicking without a tee.

Coming out of high school in Gautier, Mississippi, McLaughlin was considered one of the top prospects in the South, if not the nation. The obvious plan was for him to take over next season as a solid replacement for Neal Thomas who is (unfortunately) graduating.

But a sore leg last August prevented McLaughlin from being much of a factor in the pre-season competition. Unlike the other kicking candidates, McLaughlin is on scholarship, which guarantees a close look from the coaches, but that only goes so far. This staff has demonstrated time and again their commitment to the precept that the best player plays. And McLaughlin will have to win the job on the field against some determined competition.


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