October 31, Football Notebook

In this week's football notebook, several issues are discussed. Including earning your way onto the football field, why the best athletes don't always play, ‘creating' depth on defense, and how paradoxically, sometimes a principle can be an ‘inconvenient' thing. <br><br>At least as far as impatient fans are concerned.

What happened to Anthony Bryant?

Of course the short answer is ‘nothing.' In his first season of college eligibility, Bryant has seen action in all seven games as an important backup at nose tackle. Statistically, he's totaled 12 tackles (four solo and eight assists) and also has a quarterback hurry to his credit.

Many fans expected Bryant to step in and dominate immediately at nose tackle.

But given the very high expectations surrounding him, those numbers prompt many fans to wonder. After all, at 6-3, 337 pounds, Bryant is an impressive physical specimen. And his calf muscles alone (the eighth wonder of the world?) had many sidewalk pundits predicting great things from Bryant. Nicknamed ‘Bear' by previous defensive line Coach Lance Thompson, the pride of Sunshine High School was expected to step in and solve Alabama's problems at defensive tackle all by himself.

Of course that hasn't happened--at least not yet. But the reasons are hardly sinister.

Bryant has excellent physical tools, but he played at a very small high school against less-than-stellar competition. Plus, his prodigious size by itself practically guaranteed that he needn't work very hard to be successful in high school. An adjustment period was inevitable, especially considering that Bryant never played ‘down' before college.

Initially his development was slowed as he learned to play from a three-point stance. But according to his coaches, Bryant's steepest learning curve involves the use of his hands. Bryant is big--but so are the SEC linemen assigned to block him. And developing his ‘hand fighting' techniques, involving countless moves and counter-moves that are crucial to success along the line of scrimmage is a continuing challenge.

But give him time. He's getting there.

Principles an ‘inconvenient' thing?

Known for his discipline, Dennis Franchione has put his 30+ years of coaching experience to good use in identifying basic principles to use in running a program. And one of his bedrock beliefs is that the best players should play.

Franchione and Freddie Milons watch Beard at practice.

But note the term ‘player' as opposed to ‘athlete.'

Coach Fran spends a lot of time talking about mutual ‘trust,' and he's not simply talking about following the rules--though that's obviously a part of it. When he tells his team that "we have to be able to ‘trust' you before we'll put you on the field," he's also talking about an athlete's proven ability to both recognize and then carry out his assignments.

So why hasn't Franchione recognized what almost everyone else has seen--that Santonio Beard is the most gifted runner among his eligible tailbacks?

The answer is simple. Franchione (and Running Backs Coach Lee Fobbs) know a gifted runner when they see one. They saw what Beard was able to accomplish versus Tennessee. 141 yards on only 10 carries is impressive in any game, but the Vol rushing defense is one of the best in the nation.

The only problem is that they also saw Beard's assignment busts. Bama tailbacks do more than just run. They also have extremely important assignments as decoys and in the passing game--not to mention their crucial role in blitz pickup. Bust an assignment there (as Beard did a couple of times against Tennessee), and you'll get your quarterback killed.

When Beard proves he can be ‘trusted' in all phases of the game, then he might start. But until the coaches trust him as much 'without' the ball as with, expect Beard to continue to come off the bench.

When it comes to ACL's, the third time was NOT the charm

Before his injury, Rawls had been playing well at Rover.

Football can be a brutal sport, and that fact proved true again last Wednesday. In a standard pass defense drill, backup Rover Jason Rawls stepped on the receiver's foot, tearing the same ligament for the third time.

His ACL was first injured in high school, and Rawls tore it again soon after arriving on campus. As Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush noted, this injury is especially disheartening because Rawls had been playing very well.

Now the redshirt freshman faces the difficult decision over whether to undergo surgery to repair the ligament and then go through the long and painful rehab process yet again.

Given his history, it's possible that Rawls will choose to give up football. But he'll make that decision one way or another in consultation with the Bama medical staff and his family.

‘Creating' depth on the Bama D

Victor Ellis can play all three linebacker positions.

The strained MCL suffered by Kindal Moorehead against Tennessee has left the Tide critically thin along the defensive line. And in Rawls' absence, the Tide coaches are scrambling to ‘create' adequate depth at all three linebacker spots. Like dominos, removing Rawls and Moorehead from the depth chart will affect numerous players.

Principally, three different seniors will be called on to step up their game.

From freshman to senior year, Adam Cox has had a so-far disappointing career, moving from tailback to linebacker to tailback to fullback to H-back and then back to linebacker this fall. Before Rawls' injury Cox had played only in spots this season, but suddenly the Jasper native finds himself the main backup at Rover.

Having lost his starting job earlier in the season, Victor Ellis has also had to deal with disappointment. After beginning No. 1 at strongside linebacker, Ellis was replaced by the younger, more athletic Cornelius Wortham. Since that time he has played as a backup on the outside, but now Ellis could be called on to play inside as well. Since he started all last season at middle linebacker, Ellis can obviously handle the job. But practice suddenly becomes crucial as he gets reps at both positions.

Darius Gilbert is working at both defensive end and middle linebacker.

One of the reasons Ellis is being worked some at middle linebacker is that previous backup Darius Gilbert (also a former starter at outside linebacker) has become a part-time defensive end. The uncertainty surrounding Moorehead's injury (he may or may not play versus LSU) has forced the coaches to look for capable bodies, and Gilbert is their man. Weighing close to 260 pounds, he has the bulk to compete on the D-Line, and Carl Torbush has said that end is probably his natural position.

For different reasons, seniors Cox, Ellis and Gilbert all probably have cause to be a little disappointed about how their careers are ending. No athlete worth his salt wants to be remembered as a backup. But with a stretch run of LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn and Southern Miss ahead, there will now be plenty of reps to go around--and more than enough chances for the three to make their mark.


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