Barring injury, junior Brooks Daniels will start--and in fact the Tide coaches are predicting an all-star season for their junior star. But Daniels struggles to keep his weight up, and the emergence of Anderson as a solid backup will be key to keeping him healthy. "Last year he played defensive end, so Mark has had to learn the difference between standing up and putting his hand on the ground," Daniels explained. "He just moved to linebacker this spring. He was fuzzy at first, but he's come a long way.
"He looks real good. He'll be able to play this year. I think he's going to get a lot of playing time."
Having sent scores of athletes to the NFL, Carl Torbush recognizes linebacker talent when he sees it. And he's seen plenty to like about Anderson. "He's aggressive. He's got some natural movement to him. He's very physical. He's fast. He's tough. He's got all the tools. I think he's got a great future ahead of him."
Long and lean with very good speed, Anderson had trouble packing on the weight necessary to be an every-down defensive end. But Torbush believes he'll excel at Rover. "He reminds me of three or four of my linebackers at North Carolina. Some of them had his kind of frame. He weighs about 230 pounds now, and he can get bigger. You put Mark out there and he becomes more of a defensive end/linebacker type. He's got a knack for getting to the quarterback. Mark can be a big-time Rover."
"I weigh about 230 and I'm 6-5, so I can bring it," Anderson said. "Rushing the quarterback, that's one of my specialties--coming off the end and sacking the quarterback. I was recruited for D-End, so that's my specialty."
Anderson played both offense and defense in high school, totaling 104 tackles and nine quarterback sacks his senior year. He redshirted last season, his first at Alabama. After being moved to linebacker in the spring, Anderson earned the "Ozzie Newsome Most Improved Freshman" Award.
Franchione has been particularly impressed. "It's hard to go from playing with your hand on the ground to playing up. It's usually easier to do it the other way. He's done a nice job. His learning curve has been very good."
"I think things are going all right," was Anderson's assessment of his performance this fall. "I think I've got a good chance to get some playing time this year. Coach Torbush tells me to learn my plays, keep on working hard, and do what I've got to do so I can get ‘run.'"
Playing Rover requires a variety of skills. The position is equal parts linebacker, defensive end and safety, but Anderson is adjusting. Daniels explains, "He was a D-End, so he can blitz very well. He knows what he's got to do scheme-wise, dropping back in coverage."
As would be expected given his experience as a lineman, Anderson is still learning to play pass defense. "I've still got to work on my coverages," he said. "But I'm starting to catch on. It's coming to me. I end up mostly covering tight ends and running backs. This fall I'm working to get my quickness and my coverages better. Coverages are the hardest thing so far."
So far, so good.
In the first fall scrimmage held Wednesday, Anderson totaled five tackles and one pass breakup while impressing his head coach. "Mark is a smart player with good instincts to play the game," Franchione said. "He'll be better in October than in September, because he'll get some game reps.
"Mark Anderson will be able to help us on defense this year."