The instructor, Alabama Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush, 50, smiled politely and quickly got back to the task at hand, teaching a few dozen students the finer points of Alabama's defense philosophy. Another coach might have taken time to acknowledge the flattery bestowed upon him by a fellow coach, but Torbush, who also carries the job title of Linebackers Coach, was busy doing something he enjoys a little bit more--talking about linebackers.
In fact, some might say it's his favorite thing to do.
"There's no doubt," Torbush says of his unsurpassed passion for ‘Sams,' ‘Mikes' and Rovers. "Playing linebacker and basically always coaching linebackers, that's like a kid liking chocolate ice cream. I get it every day. I get to do what I truly enjoy doing, and that's coaching linebackers, experiencing them growing."
Torbush's description of what it means to see a player grow is simple: grasping the technical aspects of zone defense, earning a degree--and everything in between.
Ironically, it might be the failure of one player to get his degree--Saleem Rasheed, who elected to bypass his senior season to enter this month's NFL draft--that will complicate Torbush's plans the most this off-season.
The departure of Rasheed--a Freshman All-SEC selection in his first year, a second-team All-SEC selection his sophomore year, and a first-teamer as junior this past season--leaves a gaping hole at the middle linebacker spot in the Alabama defense. But don't think that means Torbush will be setting lower standards for his defense next year.
"There's no doubt we lost a great football player in Saleem, but we've got some great players coming back," Torbush said. He quickly rattles off the names of Kenny King, Kindal Moorehead and Jarrett Johnson, a trio of senior defensive linemen each of whom have garnered All-SEC status at some point in their careers.
"Our coaching staff does not expect any drop off. Our kids are working hard to be better and I expect them to be better."
In the meantime, Torbush has spent the spring tutoring Rasheed's replacement, Freddie Roach-a 6-2 , 237-pounder whom Torbush calls "a prototype middle linebacker." Both player and coach know Roach will endure plenty of comparisons to Rasheed. Torbush thinks comparing Roach, a redshirt freshman from Killen, to Rasheed, a departing junior, is absurd. "Make that comparison in three years," he says.
But Roach sees it as an honor, saying, "Saleem was a great linebacker. It's a privilege for me to be compared to him."
Torbush has very realistic expectations for Roach, who not only faces the task of starting as a freshman but also--as a middle linebacker--the responsibility for making all the defensive play calls on the field. "We're asking him to be a consistent, stable factor and make sure he's making plays, play in and play out," Torbush says. "We're not looking for somebody flashy right now, although I think he can become that. Right now, we're looking for consistency."
If Alabama didn't already have two juniors--Cornelius Wortham and Brooks Daniels--firmly entrenched at the outside linebacker spots, Torbush says he would have inserted Roach on the outside as a freshman before moving him into the middle. But for right now, Torbush will have to live with a freshman as his defensive quarterback.
When asked about the unusual situation of leading a unit of older players, Roach said he actually sees it as an advantage to be surrounded by veterans, especially the two outside linebackers.
"Anytime you've got older guys around you it helps a lot," Roach said. "Those two guys do a lot for me, just like Saleem and Darius [Gilbert] did when they were here."
With spring practice drawing to a close, Torbush has almost everything a football coach could ask for: a raw athlete he hopes to groom into his star linebacker of the future, a secondary budding with potential and three all-conference linemen up front.
In fact, there's only one thing that could make it better. What might that be?
Finding a way to keep Tommerdahl from interrupting his lectures.