Behind The Scenes

It didn't take long to point out the importance of back-up performers for Alabama's football team this year. In summer workouts, just weeks before the start of fall practice, a returning starting defensive player suffered an injury that required surgery. Injuries are a part of football, which makes depth an important factor in football success. Today we look at Alabama defensive back-ups.

Alabama's senior defensive end Mark Anderson underwent successful arthroscopic surgery July 21 to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee.  Anderson sustained the injury on July 19 during an off-season workout.

The surgery was performed by Dr. Lyle Cain and Dr. James Andrews at St. Vincent's Hospital in Birmingham.  Anderson is expected to be ready for the opening game of the season on September 3 against Middle Tennessee, said Alabama Coach Mike Shula.     

A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Anderson was a 12-game starter last season and had 41 tackles, 11 stops behind the line and 1.5 quarterback sacks.

Shula said that Chris Harris, a junior, is behind Anderson on the depth chart. Harris is relatively experienced, having played in every game last year with 210 snaps. Such experienced depth is not always available.

For instance, Wallace Gilberry, who backed up Todd Bates last year, has moved up to starter at right defensive end going into the 2005 season. He is backed up by sophomore Keith Saunders, who saw only token playing time in mop-up situations last season.

True freshmen probably play at more defensive positions than offensive positions, and it is possible that one or more true freshmen will be in the playing rotation on the defensive line, either at end or tackle. Some of the incoming players could be either. Those mentioned as possibilities for playing time at defensive end include Brandon Fanney and Lorenzo Washington, who spent last year at Hargrave Academy, along with Brandon Deaderick and Bobby Greenwood. And Baron Huber is listed as a linebacker, but don't be surprised to see him move up to end.

Jeremy Clark and Rudy Griffin are returning starters at tackle. The top back-ups last year were Anthony Bryant, who has graduated, and soph Justin Britt. Chris Turner started last season as a back-up defensive end, moved to tackle where he played sparingly, then elected to give up football prior to his senior season. Curtis Dawson saw limited work as a back-up tackle last year, but he was dismissed from the team prior to this season.

Britt will certainly be a regular in the tackle rotation, and Bama coaches have to hope that junior Dominic Lee is over his many injuries, including the ankle injury that required surgery and caused him to miss the final three weeks of spring practice. Walk-on junior J.P. Adams has some experience.

There has been speculation that one of the new defensive ends–Fanney, Washington or Deaderick–might be able to man a tackle. There is almost no doubt that freshman Byron Walton is a defensive tackle prospect.

Occasionally a bridge player will pick up a hand of "Aces and spaces," meaning not much of a hand except for a few of the top cards, the aces. Alabama's linebacker situation might be described that way.

Two Alabama linebackers, middle linebacker Freddie Roach and strongside linebacker DeMeco Ryans, have received all-star mention as they prepare for their senior season. The third starter, junior Juwan Simpson, is also a proven commodity.

Matt Collins, a sophomore walk-on who played on special teams last year, had an excellent spring and emerged as the number two middle linebacker, ahead of Juke King, a senior who played in every game last year. Look for freshman Prince Hall to get a look at middle linebacker.

Ryans is backed by Terrence Jones, who was a legitimate back-up player last year. Jones, a junior, played in every game last season.

While Simpson (Juwan Garth before changing his name) is a proven linebacker, his back-ups are men who have previously played other positions. Demarcus Waldrop was a true back-up at weakside linebacker last year, and even started the Kentucky game. But he and fellow sophomore Marcel Stamps, who was previously a wide receiver and strong safety, both seem a little undersized. Jake Wingo was redshirted last year and will also compete at weakside linebacker.

With four starters returning in the secondary, it would seem that any other defensive backs would be merely for depth. But there is some legitimate competition for starting jobs from the back-ups, particularly at the cornerback positions.

Left cornerback Ramzee Robinson, a junior, will have to battle to keep his job from falling to one of two sophomores, Simeon Castille or Travis Robinson. Castille is also used as a nickel back.

Although right cornerback Anthony Madison is often criticized by fans, who think he is too small at 5-9 to guard receivers, Madison is considered by coaches–Alabama's and those of the opponents–as a top cornerback. Soph Eric Gray and freshman Lionel Mitchell both had good spring work behind Madison.

Charlie Peprah was successful in his move from cornerback to strong safety last year. The senior will be backed by soph Marcus Carter, who played primarily on special teams last year.

Senior Roman Harper is an all-star candidate at safety. Junior Jeffrey Dukes, who was the nickel back in the Music City Bowl, is the back-up.

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