Surprises On Tide Defense

A frequent feature of a spring football practice roster is unknown players, a handful of men not previously listed who have walked on in hopes of earning a uniform, playing time, possibly a scholarship. Although it is a small percentage of those walk-ons who succeed, over the years a numbers of non-scholarshipped players have made the grade.

One of the more interesting names on this year's Alabama spring football roster is Rajiv Lundy, a 6-0, 195-pound defensive back. Lundy is from Willingboro, New Jersey, where he played at Holy Cross High School. He then went to Hargrave Academy in Virginia.

If that route rings a bell, it's because it's the same path that Keith Saunders took to The Capstone.

Saunders came to Alabama on football scholarship, but he was a very late selection, inking with the Tide a week following Signing Day in 2003, after previous suitors Virginia and North Carolina quit calling him.

Last year Saunders was a surprise, coming out of 2005 reserve status to earn the starting job at defensive end. With the change in coaching staffs following the 2006 season, Saunders got a surprise: a change in position.

Saunders had a decent season for Bama last year. Splitting time with Bobby Greenwood, Saunders ws in on 16 tackles, including three for 14 yards in losses. He had a sack for a nine-yard loss, caused a fumble, recovered a fumble, broke up two passes and had a quarterback hurry.

The Saban staff looked at the 6-3, 248-pound Saunders and decided he wasn't a defensive lineman. And so Saunders moved to a new linebacker position, Jack. That move enables Bama to put three first team players from last year – ends Wallace Gilberry and Greenwood, along with Saunders – on the field together. And it fits with Alabama's base defense.

Saunders is working hard to master the Jack trade.

He explains that he is a linebacker when Alabama is in a 3-4 alignment and he moves up to end (with Greenwood sliding inside) when the Crimson Tide is in a 4-3.

Although Saban noted that the Jack doesn't get "beat up" going against offensive tackles, Saunders said he still has to be able to play the tackles and tight ends at Jack.

"Sometimes I rush and sometimes I drop (pass coverage)," Saunders said. "It adds an element of surprise to the defense. It's exciting."

He said he's "learning the plays day-by-day. I think I've got a grasp of what we've put in, but there's a lot more to be installed. I think we're out of the ‘work-in-progress' stage, but there's still a lot of work to do."

Saunders describes Alabama's defense as "11 players playing hard. The intensity will be high. It's explosive. It's running to the ball, fast play, team defense."

Alabama has a final closed practice Thursday. The Tide will go on public display Saturday in the A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. A large crowd is expected, so much so that officials were to announce that gates for the game will open at 11 a.m. Kickoff will be at 1 p.m.

Although Saunders has been in a black jersey (non-contact status) part of the spring, he said he would be ready to play Saturday.

Although he's excited about the crowd and says the reason for it is "Coach Saban," he thinks fans will enjoy what they see. "They'll see what we've been doing for the past month, and I think they'll be able to see that we've been working hard," Saunders said.

On a more practical level, Saunders said, "It's another scrimmage, a chance to get better. The last chance we'll have this spring."

And one of his defensive teammates will be his former high school teammate Rajiv Lundy.

Saunders said he played with Lundy, though a couple of years ahead. He also played with Rajiv's cousin, Wally Lundy, a former Virginia player who is now playing with the Houston Texans of the NFL.

Saunders takes credit for Lundy being at Alabama. "He was looking around at different places," Saunders said. "I told him if he'd come to Alabama and play his heart out, he would get a chance. He loves it here. He said he'd never been in an environment like this."

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