Roach ready for spring

Most of the pre-spring linebacker talk has centered around either DeMeco Ryans or the return of Cornelius Wortham. But two-year-starter Freddie Roach has quietly been preparing for a breakout year.

Last season virtually nothing went right for the Tide, as a talented but inconsistent team turned in a 4-9 record. But Roach says the squad will bounce back.

"We've been able to put things behind us and move on," he explained. "That's what impressed me most about my teammates. We matured. We're rallying around Coach Shula, which is good."

As a first-year head coach Mike Shula was learning on the job all season long. But the players believe in his ability.

"His enthusiasm and how he responds to the players," Roach replied when asked for some of Shula's good points. "He's a players' coach, and we all enjoy that. That's different from what we had in the past. Getting Coach Shula was a blessing.

Freddie Roach (#8, middle left) and DeMeco Ryans (#35, middle right) take a break last season. (True freshmen Demarcus Waldrop and Wallace Gilberry are to the far left and far right respectively.)

"Everything happens for a reason. I think we're blessed with the coach we have."

Talking about the middle linebacker position, Shula identified one certain goal during last Wednesday's pre-spring press conference

"We've got to be more physical on both sides of the ball, especially inside and up front," he noted. "We've got to do a better job against the run."

Accustomed to setting the pace for the entire nation in that category, last season the Tide ranked only 36th in rushing defense. But Shula cited Roach specifically as a player that was working hard in the off-season to improve.

Former strongside linebacker Cornelius Wortham has been moved inside to help deal with the problem. "With Cornelius and Freddie Roach in there, that will really give us some depth in the middle," Shula noted.

Last season Roach started all season at middle linebacker, totaling 85 tackles, fifth-best on the squad. But he welcomes the competition from Wortham.

"There has always been pressure on me," Roach said. "I've been under pressure to perform since I was about 10 years old. That hasn't changed yet, so it's nothing new. It's not going to scare me away. I'm still going to go out there and perform."

According to Shula, Wortham's move to the middle was prompted more by the improved play of DeMeco Ryans (strongside linebacker) and Juwan Garth (weakside) than any concern over Roach's abilities.

"It goes back to finding our best guys and putting our best 22 on the field," Shula explained. "There is no position (on the team)--and there never will be--that is set in stone. We're going to play our best guys. Who starts will depend on whoever that guy may be."

Roach buries the Mississippi State quarterback. (AP photo)

Last season Ryans had a break-out year, leading the team in tackles with 126. Playing next to him most of the time, Roach witnessed first-hand the improvement.

"DeMeco really handled last season well," Roach said. "The way he responded you would have thought he was a veteran starter. He's a great linebacker. He comes out every day at practice trying to get better. He's still maturing. If you talk to him, he's a very intelligent guy.

"I've met his family, and he comes from good stock. If he does make a mistake, he puts it behind him. When it's time to make a play, he does."

The way Roach sees it, four linebackers capable of starting will inevitably equal a dominating unit.

"We try and push each other to be the best," he said. "This linebacking corps is going to be pretty good. I'm proud to play with these guys."

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