Limiting Marks is the Key

There was some football talk going on during Tuesday's news conference at the Naylor Stone media suite in the Alabama football complex, and Tide defensive coordinator Joe Kines had plenty to say about Alabama's upcoming battle with Middle Tennessee Saturday evening at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

"They've got a fine football team," he said. "He hasn't jumped around and went from scheme to scheme to scheme. They've been in the same little package since he's been there and just added and developed it. They do a good job with the four wides and then come back with a tight end, two-back offense, then they go to a tight end, one-back three wide."

The offensive package might be similar to the one Middle Tennessee employed against Alabama in 2002, but the primary threat of the head coach Andy McCollum's offense will come in an entirely different manner.

In that 2002 game, it was the tandem of over-hyped-but-still-talented Heisman hopeful running back Dwone Hicks and underrated scampering quarterback Andrico Hines that gave the Alabama defense fits until freshman Freddie Roach sealed the victory with a fourth-quarter interception.

In 2005, the threat will come with the passing ability of sophomore lefty quarterback Clint Marks. Marks threw for 2,700-plus yards last year, unseating a year-older and more experienced quarterback after the first game to win the starting job.

"He's got good eyes," Kines said. "He throws a catchable ball. He's not a guy that gets back there and tries to knock them down with it. He's got a good strong arm but he throws a real catchable ball and he puts the ball where it's supposed to be. Offensively, they've done an excellent job training him."

The fact that Marks is a southpaw gives the defense a different look, but won't be much of a factor otherwise.

"The field gets flipped around calling the plays some, but the kids are going to play it just like a right-hander," Kines said. "That's not a major concern. The major concern is his eyes and his throwing ability."

Throwing ability and a hurry-up offense in the season opener are the things that Kines will train his squad in on this week.

"You see it on tape time and time again," he said. "They're a no-huddle, fast speed, ‘we're going to go right now' offense. Opening games are always difficult to prepare for and when you've got that facing you it adds to the complexity of it."

"This is not a team that you're going to go out there and throw your hat in the ring and say, ‘We're here, we'll go on about our business.' It's going to take a good day's work to get this offense corralled up. They're not just running a bunch of plays. They've got a pretty good system and they're hanging in that system pretty well. They're not just ad-libbing, they've got a pretty good package."

An important factor the third-year defensive coordinator alluded to should be one of the Crimson Tide's strongest suits this season, and it laid down an opening week challenge for Alabama's highly-touted pass-rushing ends, Wallace Gilberry and Mark Anderson.

"Any time you're playing a throwing team obviously somebody's got to rush that passer," Kines said. "This time of year that's a big deal. All across the country the guys that have good pass rushers do well early and the guys that don't have to find another way to do it. So a heavy load falls on the pass rushing unit."

Kines said Alabama defenders won't have the luxury of keying in on Chris Henry, the Blue Raiders' leading returning receiver (60 catches, 586 yards).

"It's a controlled passing game, but they will take it deep. If you chart the throws they'll hit most of the field zones," Kines said. "Henry's a really fine receiver but he's not the only one of them that can catch."

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