Rasheed leads Tide 'D' versus Cyclones

With an entirely new coaching staff arriving last winter, changes were certainly expected. And it didn't take long for Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione and new Coordinator Carl Torbush to make their first move. <br><br>"When we arrived we moved Saleem to middle linebacker," Franchione said. "We wanted him to run sideline to sideline and make plays. And he has done that for us.

"He makes a lot of plays, and he does it with great speed."

Speaking to the media today at the final press conference before Thursday's Independence Bowl, Franchione was effusive in his praise of the junior linebacker. "This season we've had two different linebackers with over 100 tackles. That's very unusual for Alabama."

An avid weight lifter, Rasheed is one of the strongest athletes on the squad.

Rasheed wound up with a team-leading 115 stops, and Brooks Daniels chipped in 102 from his Rover position. Rasheed became the 12th player in school history to record 100 or more tackles in a single season. His total this year was good enough for 6th on the Bama all-time list. Woodrow Lowe set the standard in 1973 with 134 tackles.

"Sometimes I don't think he's very big," Franchione continued. "But then I look closer at him. He doesn't have a lot of body fat on him. His strength and his speed and his ability to run and make plays are excellent."

"We just need him to get an interception for us," Franchione added as Rasheed shook his head laughing. "We kid him about his hands."

Rasheed also led the Tide in tackles as a true freshman, and his effort this year solidified him as a team leader. Prior to the Auburn game his teammates voted him permanent captain.

Of course this week, Rasheed and his defensive running mates are concerned with Iowa State. Sporting a talented tailback and dual-threat QB, the Cyclones will be tough. "We're challenged every week," Rasheed said. "The SEC is a great league. But those two can hurt you in a number of ways. Their quarterback is very mobile. They've got a big, tough tailback and the linemen to block for him."

Iowa State's tailback, Ennis Haywood, was the third-leading rusher in the Big 12 Conference. And their quicksilver QB, Seneca Wallace, was named the conference's Offensive Newcomer of the Year.

"Wallace is special," Rasheed said. "He has a burst (of speed) that's great. We really haven't faced a quarterback like him. He's got great mobility, speed and footwork. We've had a couple of our DBs (Roman Harper and Anthony Madison) working back there (at scout team quarterback) this week to try and give us a look."

After tough losses to Tennessee and LSU dropped the team's record to 3-5, the Tide defense came in for its share of criticism. But Rasheed is proud that his teammates refused to quit. "I think psychologically our front seven has been strong all year," he said. "And I was really proud of our defensive backs the last several games. I wouldn't trade them for anybody over those last games. They've been playing with great confidence recently."

As a defensive leader and permanent captain, Rasheed spoke to the press at today's news conference.

Rasheed averaged 10.5 tackles per game this year, his best season in a Crimson Tide uniform. But the only thing on his mind now is a victory over the Cyclones. "It will be a positive thing heading into the off season," Rasheed said. "It would be good for us to head into the winter workouts with a victory."

Alabama has practiced every day at Independence Stadium, allowing the players to become accustomed to its artificial turf. Rasheed explained; "We've never really practiced on a game field before, so I think we're going to be a lot more comfortable tomorrow. But once we get out there it'll just be football."

Having played in the Orange Bowl as a freshman, Rasheed has a point of comparison for this weeks activities. "All of the festivities have been great," he stated. "The hospitality has been outstanding. The Independence Bowl has done an outstanding job. I enjoyed all of it, but I especially liked the hypnotist. It was fun seeing all those big guys make fools of themselves."

The Birmingham native has appeared in 34 career games at The Capstone, and has recorded 280 total tackles, 19 for a loss (-58 yards), six sacks (-6), seven pass breakups, three caused fumbles, one fumble recovery and one blocked punt. Rasheed was named Freshman All-SEC and SEC Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in '99. During that SEC championship season, he became the first freshman in team history to lead Alabama in tackles.

Rasheed will still have one year of college eligibility left. However, his overall athleticism has fans wondering whether he may choose to leave early for the NFL. But for now he's concentrating on the Cyclones. "I'm not even thinking about that right now," Rasheed said. "I'm just trying to play football and worry about my teammates. I'm trying to put the team first."

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