Tide morale remains high

For fatalistic fans, it's a disturbing parallel. Last season Alabama was also 3-3 before playing Tennessee--and nobody wants a repeat of that finish. But according to Saleem Rasheed at least, that's not likely to happen. "The morale of the team is not something we have to worry about this year. If you came around us you wouldn't think we're not a team that is 6-0. We know that we have the potential to do well."

"We're still having fun out there," Rasheed continued. "You still see plenty of smiles around here. Our attitudes are great. We just have to learn how to finish ball games. We believe you play the first three quarters to put yourself in a position to win. The fourth quarter is the real fight. The team that wants to win comes forward. We just haven't been able to finish ball games. We've tried; we've fought hard the past couple of weeks, but we haven't been able to finish. But the morale of the team is good."

Of course anyone associated with that 2000 squad could see the handwriting on the wall. Mike DuBose and his entire staff are now gone, replaced by coaches that have worked hard to rebuild the players' morale. Rasheed explained; "It's definitely a better atmosphere. We're keeping our spirits high. Our attitudes are much different from last year. We're not getting disappointed. We're still out there having fun. Our confidence level is still high.

With 52 stops to his credit, Saleem Rasheed is the Tide defense's leading tackler.

"We feel like we're only two or three plays away from being 6-0. That's how we've got to look at things. We've got to go out there and play with the same level of enthusiasm as we always have, no matter how the outcome turns out."

Though Tide fans were still complaining about the Ole Miss loss late into the next week, the players haven't had that luxury. Rasheed explained; "For as long as I can remember in this state, Tennessee has always been a big game. If you look at the games that people put pressure on you to win, it's Auburn and Tennessee."

But the last time the Volunteers visited Bryant-Denny, the contest ended with UT players taunting the Tide fans with "We own, Alabama," sung to the tune of the familiar Alabama anthem. "You don't want to see that," Rasheed said. "Obviously you don't want to hear them singing our song and incorporating their own words into it. It gets under your skin as a player. But at the same time we don't want to get emotional. We want to stay enthusiastic about the game, go into it with a positive attitude."

The Volunteers are working on a six-game winning streak versus Alabama, so not one current Tide player has ever beaten Tennessee. "You obviously don't want to go ‘0 for' against a team," Rasheed acknowledged. "It gets under your skin a little bit that they have your number year in and year out, but at the same time you can't be thinking this team has beaten us. You've got to go into the game with enthusiasm instead of letting it get into your head and be too emotional."

Faced with stopping the SEC's leading rusher in Travis Stephens, Bama's linebackers will have enough to worry about. "Stephens is a tough runner," Rasheed said. "He's tough and he's fast. That's a scary mixture. He's going to be hard to contain. We'll have to challenge him. He's a great player, one of the best in the SEC. I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Pictured surrounded by his teammates at the conclusion of a workout last summer, Rasheed has assumed a leadership role on the Tide squad.

"I feel like if Stephens has a good day, then they're going to be able to do whatever they want," Rasheed continued. "But if we contain him and keep him down, then they're going to be limited in the things that they can do. That's a real key part to our success--containing Stephens."

The games have generally been hard-fought, but in recent seasons Tennessee has consistently won the battle of the trenches. "It's in the top three every year as far as physical ball games," Rasheed admitted. "We expect that out of them. They work hard in emphasizing that they need to be a physical football team. That carries over to the game. We expect it to be one of the most physical games every year.

"The offensive styles factors into it a little bit, but also the rivalry adds to it. If you're alive then you're going to go out there and be a lot more physical toward them. The fact that we're both majority running teams also plays into it."

One of the knocks on last year's Tide defense was poor fundamentals, exemplified by multiple missed tackles in every game. But while Rasheed knows that there is still work to be done, the Tide linebackers combined for 30 stops versus Ole Miss. "Our tackling can always get better," he acknowledged. "It's never as good as it needs to be until we have zero missed tackles on the chart. I think it's getting better from week to week. It depends a lot on who we're playing and the type athletes that they are--how great their ability is to make you miss tackles."

Alabama lists only one senior starter on the entire defense, and truthfully Aries Monroe is part of a regular rotation at defensive end. So third-year starter Rasheed has been counted on to step up. "I think the leadership on the team has been pretty good," he said. "I could be a little more vocal, but my forte' is leading by example. I think I've done that. I try to lead the guys by the example I set in working and doing everything the right way all the time--even when no one's looking. Leadership is better. People tried to lead last year, but this year it's a lot better."

Cornelius Wortham now starts at strongside linebacker.

Brooks Daniels has become a force at Rover.

Rasheed may be only a junior, but the recent elevation of Cornelius Wortham to No. 1 at strongside linebacker has tagged Rasheed as the ‘grizzled veteran' of the unit. "Cornelius has really stepped up," Rasheed said. "The biggest thing is his confidence level has risen to a point that we didn't expect or predict. He's playing with enthusiasm and confidence. He's getting better every week, and I'm real proud of his efforts."

So, with Wortham on one side and the even more talented Brooks Daniels starting at Rover, has Rasheed relinquished his label as ‘Best Athlete' among Bama's linebackers? "I'm not going to say that," he replied with a laugh. "Those guys are doing real well. I'll let the pundits do the comparisons.

"But we've got great athleticism at the Rover and the Sam position. Cornelius and Brooks are outstanding athletes. They run to the ball well; they're tough. It's a fun linebacking corps to play in."

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