A Guess At Depth Chart On Defense

It is reasonable to say that when I was contemplating a pre-season depth chart, I didn't expect the whereabouts of Cory Reamer would be a major feature. Coaches know infinitely more than the rest of us about the game of football and how to put the available personnel in the best places.

I don't get to watch Alabama football practices, and so my impressions of Crimson Tide players are based on the few glimpses I do get of workouts and on what was seen on A-Day or in the games of 2007. That's not much. One more piece of the puzzle can come from remembering their days as prospects.

Rolando McClain
And that may be why the spring announcement of the move of Cory Reamer from safety to weakside (Will) linebacker caused a faint buzz in my brain. Weakside? That's an inside linebacker spot, a place for the likes of 250-plus pounders like Rolando McClain and Prince Hall. Not Cory Reamer, who reported to Alabama at under 200 pounds. He should be at strongside (Sam) linebacker, an outside position with pass coverage responsibility.

Score one for the non-coach. When Alabama's official depth chart is released Monday, Reamer (now up to about 225) should be at strongside linebacker.

(I'm not really smug about that. Unlike Alabama coaches, I didn't have to consider all available personnel when considering where to put Reamer. I was just thinking about what I thought was the best place for him. Also, Reamer may yet end up at Will.)

It seems that linebacker figures into just about every question asked regarding Alabama defense. There were many questions about how the defensive depth chart would shake out, but none more puzzling than linebacker. McClain was the only returning starter after graduations of Darren Mustin and Keith Saunders and career-ending illness of Ezekial Knight. Prince Hall is temporarily suspended. The most tenacious storyline of the spring, Jimmy Johns from tailback to linebacker, ended with Johns' summer arrest for drug trafficking.

So "linebacker" since the end of last season has been the answer to questions such as "What is expected to be Alabama's biggest question on defense?"

Don'ta Hightower
Now "linebacker" may be the answer to "What is going to be the most pleasant surprise from Alabama's defense?"

That's partly dependent on an Alabama freshman or two or three being ready to play, as was McClain last year.

Most important of those freshmen would be Don'ta Hightower, a 6-2, 245-pound weakside linebacker. There's no reason to believe that he is not lining up with the first team, alongside McClain at middle (Mike) linebacker.

Hall is expected to return after a three-game suspension to back up McClain. Charlie Higgenbotham has been working at both inside spots, and he is expected back at practice Monday after having been out for a week with a groin pull. Jennings Hester and Charlie Kirschman are other inside possibilities.

Just because Reamer moved from Will to Sam doesn't mean he stayed as number one. If Reamer is not at the top of the chart, it is likely to be Chavis (rhymes with Travis) Williams. One of Alabama's highest ranked signees last February was outside linebacker Jerrell Harris, and he's a strongside candidate. Not much is heard of Eryk Anders, but when his name is mentioned it is with approval.

Brandon Fanney
The other linebacker position in Alabama's 3-4 defense is Jack, which is a hybrid position, part linebacker, part defensive end.

Some former Alabama players who were privileged to watch a recent Bama scrimmage said that Brandon Fanney was the second biggest surprise of the defense. (The biggest surprise was at nose tackle, to be discussed below.) True freshman Courtney Upshaw and redshirt freshman Alex Watkins are thought to be behind Fanney at Jack.

One of the biggest problems we had in our unofficial depth chart figuring since last season involved Lorenzo Washington. The 6-4, 283-pound junior looks like a defensive end, but last season he was the starting nose tackle and improved as the season progressed. Last week Tide Coach Nick Saban confirmed that Washington is working at end, where Bama lost Wallace Gilberry and his 10 sacks and 27 tackles for loss from last season.

The most experienced returning ends are junior Brandon Deaderick, who started seven games in 2007, and senior Bobby Greenwood, a five-game starter last season. Defensive end is a place where there are whispers about a freshman, Marcel Dareus.

Last year there were great hopes for Luther Davis, but going into his sophomore season Davis seems to be down the depth chart with Milton Talbert, Nick Gentry and freshman Michael Williams.

Marcel Dareus
For our depth chart, we'll put Washington and Greenwood one and two at left end and Deaderick and Dareus one and two at right end.

One reason Saban said he felt good about moving Washington to end was the play of Josh Chapman and Terrence Cody at nose tackle. (Several former players said they were pleasantly astounded by Cody.) Chapman has been in the system a little longer, so we'll make Chapman number one and Cody number two, but wouldn't be surprised for this to be switched, or even listed as co-number one.

Cody has been the most interesting story of fall camp, but not far behind that is the emergence of Javier Arenas at cornerback. Arenas was already well known as an outstanding kick return man, but he always considered himself a cornerback who just happened to have a role on special teams, too. Arenas is number one at left cornerback and will also man the "Star" position when Alabama is in nickel (five-man secondary) or dime (six-man secondary) packages.

He's joined on the first team by returning starting right cornerback Kareem Jackson. Marquis Johnson, Chris Rogers and Tyrone King have some experience at cornerback and can be expected to be used as back-ups and in nickel and dime situations. One minor surprise is that Robby Green has been the most talked-about freshman cornerback. Alonzo Lawrence came in with the most hype.

Justin Woodall
There are a handful of players all but guaranteed starting positions. One of them is safety Rashad Johnson, a former walk-on running back who has developed into an All-Southeastern Conference performer and team captain. There are rumors of quite a battle to join Johnson in the deep secondary.

Justin Woodall, a little-used junior who has been billed as one of the Tide's best athletes, came out of spring practice as number one at strong safety. Former tailback Ali Sharrief has gotten high marks from Saban for his play as a safety and in nickel and dime. It is no surprise that one of the most outstanding true freshmen in the number one recruiting class is Mark Barron, who is working at strong safety.

Alabama will release its official depth chart Monday.

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