Alabamians On Enemies List

Lots of Alabamians will be on hand when Nick Saban takes his 1-0 Crimson Tide team to the Music City, and not all will be wearing crimson and white, When Alabama opens Southeastern Conference play Saturday in Nashville, no fewer than 11 Commodores who call Alabama their home state will be laying in wait, and two will have to be especially accounted for on the offensive side of the ball.

Wideout Earl Bennett and quarterback Chris Nickson present special challenges to any defense they face. "Earl Bennett is really a good player," said Alabama Coach Nick Saban. "We'll have to play sound fundamentally against him and know where he's located all the time. If we can keep him from getting the big play, that would really be a good job by the secondary."

The 6-foot-1, 202-pound Bennett played high school football at Birmingham's West End High. Bama cornerback Simeon Castille, like Bennett and All-SEC pick, looks forward to the challenge of slowing down the league's top receiver. "I hope I get to go against him a lot," Castille said. "You want to go against the best. He's definitely one of the best reeeivers in the SEC."

Bennett gained pre-season All-America honors from, Athlon, Lindy's The Sporting News and Blue Ribbon, among others. He has at least one catch in all 21 of his starts, and has at least four grabs in his last 18 contests in a row.

"He's still a great receiver. He just makes big plays," Castlle noted. "He's over 200 pounds, and he catches the ball well. You've got to bring your feet when you tackle him. They put him in the slot (and) sometimes they put him out wide."

Bennett burned Richmond for a trio of scoring catches en route to 223 yards on 13 grabs, and was named SEC offensive player of the week for his efforts.

"I'm sure there'll be some plan in effect to try to take Earl out of the game a little bit," said Commodores Coach Bobby Johnson, by phone to the Alabama media Monday.

"He's one of the top receivers in this league," said Tide safety Rashad Johnson. "He's a physical player. He runs great routes. He plays fast."

Brundidge native Chris Nickson is now in his second year starting at quarterback for Vandy. The redshirt junior completed 19-of-25 throws for 284 yards and 4 TDs in the 41-17 blowout of Richmond.

"We've been pleased," Coach Johnson said. "Chris has, I think, developed a great deal. He got better and better as the (2006) season went on. If you're confident, you're just going to play better. He's got a little knack of throwing the deep ball, and when Earl's back there to catch it, that helps."

Bama weakside linebacker Darren Mustin remembers what he saw last year in person and this year on film of Nickson. "He's incredibly quick," Mustin said. "He reminds me of (suspended Falcons' quarterback) Michael Vick . He's got a great arm. He runs really good. They have quarterback draws for him. He makes great plays. We've got our work cut out for us."

Rashad Johnson says guarding the edges is the key on the dual-threat Nickson. so he doesn't beat you with his feet. "We've got to make sure we can contain him and force him to throw the ball, and that's not saying he doesn't have a great arm." Nickson (6-1, 210) accounted for over 2,700 yards in 2006.

A third Alabama native who will be a big factor plays on the other side of the ball. Junior safety Reshard Langford of Tanner, a two-year starter, is considered one of the biggest hitters in black and gold. His six career interceptions are tops among active Commodores.

Kickoff Saturday between the Tide and Commodores at Dudley Field in Nashville is set for 11:37 a.m. CDT. The game will be regionally televised by Lincoln Financial.

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