In a way, the expectations were understandable. After all, the two Alabama natives shared similar stellar honors. Following their senior seasons, both Odom and Bryant were listed on the prestigious Parade All America squads, and each man was named "Lineman of the Year" for the state in 1A (Bryant) and 6A (Odom) respectively.
As a partial qualifer, Bryant was forced to sit out his first season, though he'll have a chance to earn back that fourth year of eligibility if he graduates on time. Odom, on the other hand, did see significant playing time as a true freshman, totaling 13 tackles in 11 games. But playing in the 250-pound range that year, his effectiveness was limited versus the run.
"There are some rare defensive linemen that can handle (playing as true freshmen)," Eggen continued. "But most of the players throughout the country would struggle. Look at your prep All-Americans and see if they played as true freshmen--a bunch of them didn't. Or if they did, they played but they didn't really contribute."
Last season was Bryant's first opportunity to play. He participated in every game, taking 180 defensive snaps and totaling 20 tackles. But though obviously talented, he just as obviously needed time to adjust to SEC play. Odom played just 39 snaps in the first two games of 2001, before sustaining a shoulder injury that sidelined him the rest of the year.
So for both players 2002 will be their second full season of college football competition. "In terms of experience, Anthony Bryant was really a redshirt freshman last year," Eggen said. "And Antwan played just one season as a true freshman, but he missed last fall with his injury. Both are now really redshirt sophomores."
So-called "skill players" like receivers and running backs normally have a better chance to play early, while the big men require a year or two to bulk up and add strength. But by their third season on campus, linemen are approaching maturity. "I talked to both Antwan and Anthony about this," Eggen explained. "Their best football so far was the last two weeks of spring. Watching them I saw them flash.
"Watching the drills and looking at the tape after practices, you really noticed the differences."
Alabama Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush agreed. "The two guys on the defensive line that have made real strides and can be very good are Anthony Bryant and Antwan Odom. Anthony is just now about to figure out that he's got three years left, and he'll be a good player for us this fall."
Seniors Kenny King (nose tackle), Kindal Moorehead (defensive end) and Jarret Johnson (tackle) will man three of the starting slots on the defensive line. And junior Nautyn McKay-Loescher finished spring No. 1 at the other defensive end spot. But a viable rotation along the D-Line is absolutely essential if the Tide hopes to dominate in the fourth quarter.
Eggen explained, "I feel better if we've got eight players or even nine to rotate in there. I think we showed that the last half of the season, when we were able to make some plays, force and disrupt the other offense."
"Those two guys are keys to the success of our defense, because they add the depth that we need," Torbush added.
Coming out of high school the 6-5 Odom weighed barely 245 pounds. But after working furiously in the weight room the last two years, he's now up to an almost-frightening 285 pounds of solid muscle. On the other hand Bryant's task was just the opposite: add strength while "leaning down" his body to an ideal playing weight near 300 pounds.
Both athletes have taken their weight-room work seriously, and Eggen believes they're ready to shoulder their full load. "For us to be as good as we want to be, both of those two young men need to step it up," Eggen said. "They've both had a great off season, lifting in the weight room. Antwan came back from his shoulder surgery full speed. Anthony has remarkable physical skills, and he wants to be good.
"They've done everything we've asked."
Though its certainly possible that Bryant and Odom could end up starting this season (especially Odom), Torbush pointed out the luxury of having veteran upperclassmen back at every position.
"With Anthony and Antwan, there is no real pressure," Torbush explained. "It's not like they've got to start. Both of them have starting potential, but I think they just need to get into it and play. Antwan especially could start. It's just a matter of him beating somebody out. Anthony is the same way. Of course none of those four guys that are starting are going to give their spot up easily.
"But that competition will help all of them get better."