Tide Still Working Linebacker Plan

Alabama had to make an adjustment on the fly last week when star inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower suffered what would prove to be a season-ending knee injury. The Tide is still working on the replacement strategy.



Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, ""We've given a lot of guys opportunities at linebacker. We'll continue to do that.

"We don't have anything specific to report right now. Obviously Cory Reamer has the most experience and probably the most knowledge to play that position, But that decision has not been made."

Last week in a 35-7 win over Arkansas, Reamer moved from strongside linebacker (Sam, an outside spot) to Hightower's weakside (Will, an inside position) slot. Eryk Anders moved from jack to Sam and Courtney Upshaw replaced Anders at jack. Rolando McClain was not affected at middle linebacker.

Saban said, "We always discuss before the game what we'll do if we lose certain players, so the players knew what to do.

"Probably the best thing for us to do right now is the same way in the short term, but that's my feeling, that decision hasn't been made."

The Alabama football team practiced for two hours in full pads Wednesday afternoon at the Thomas-Drew Practice Facility as preparation for Saturday's Southeastern Conference game at Kentucky continues. Although Alabama on the road for a neutral site game to start the season, this will be the first game in which Bama is the visiting team. Wednesday's preparation included crowd noise broadcast over the practice fields. Kickoff Saturday will be at 11:21 a.m. CDT with regional television on the SEC Network.

Saban said, "Donta Hightower was a guy that played a lot of roles for us, probably more roles than anybody on our defense, relative to inside backer, nickel backer, defensive end or pass-rusher, odd inside linebacker in sub situations. There may not be one person who could actually fulfill all of those roles, but maybe several people who end up playing inside backer, somebody playing nickel backer, somebody may have to take his place as the sub-rusher. So, there are probably several opportunities created there for some guys on our team, but maybe not one particular player doing all those things."

Hightower had surgery this week. Saban said, "Dont'a's surgery went well. I talked to the doctor about it and he expects a full recovery."

Saban pointed out, "We actually played two-thirds of the game last week with these guys at those positions. To me that's harder to do than when you get all the reps because a guy gets all the reps in practice he's much more prepared in the game. Cory Reamer had very few reps in practice. He had some at nickel. Because of all his other roles on the team, that's what he was practicing."

Saban was asked about true freshman Nico Johnson and redshirt freshman Chris Jordan, both middle linebackers, as possibilities.

"We didn't do that," the coach said. "It's always an option, but we really didn't do that. Nico has played Mike and Will, which for a young guy is a little bit of a burden. Young guys make mistakes every day, but as long as they are making progress....We're pleased and happy with their progress. That's the biggest thing right now--could they go in and execute knowledgewise to be able to get it done. I think they're all going to be good football players. But they've got to be ready to play. We've played freshmen linebackers two years in a row. Rolando played two years ago. Dont'a played all last year. So it's not we wouldn't play a freshman. But those guys got it. We wouldn't want to play guys who aren't confident in what they are supposed to do and how to do it. We'll continue to bring those guys along."

Hightower was injured on a "cut block," a legal block. Saban was asked if he was aware of any sentiment to "tweak" the block rule.

"There's always been a lot of discussion about cut blocking," Saban said. "We have a cut block rule, but it only affects a player if he's engaged with another player who then gets cut, which is extremely dangerous. I have mixed emotions. Cut blocking has been a part of the game for a long time. A lot of players get hurt because of cut blocking, no question about that.

"But I also feel that every player has a responsibility to play the cut blocks. You need to coach to play the blocks properly so you minimize the chances of being injured by being cut. It's my opinion, and I tell the players, that if the cut is in front of you and you can see them, that should never been an issue; you should address and play that block a certain way. And that's the way it was with Dont'a. I don't know if he didn't see him. He should have used his hands and played the block.

"It's a part of the game. I don't know how adversely it would affect offensive football if you couldn't cut. I think it would to some degree. it would certainly be harder to make certain blocks. And there would be much more inertia by defensive players running into blockers because they wouldn't have to play under control. If a guy was coming to block, they could just blow them up. So that might create problems in another direction. I understand the issue. I don't know how we could correct it without really making a huge impact on the game."

Also on the issue of safety, Saban was asked about the number of helmets that have come off players during games this year.

"I've noticed the same thing," he said. "I think probably something should be done, some investigation relative to the players' safety. I think there are a lot of people who look into those sort of things, whether it's equipment, or player safety. It should be addressed because I see it happening a lot."

Saban also had an illness update.. "Nick Gentry has the flu and has had it a couple of days and missed a couple of days of practice," he said.

Saban said, "We have had two pretty good days of practice. The players have worked hard. I think everybody needs to understand the importance of when you play on the road: pay attention to detail, staying focused, and not being affected by external factors. It takes a little maturity. The leadership of the older players affects the younger players to do the same. Very positive in how you have to approach when you're playing on the road."

He said, "Their team (Kentucky) is probably one of the tougher direct down-hill running two-back; we haven't seen that this year.

"They are physical, they don't make a lot of mistakes; you've got to beat them.

"Defensively they play the same way; they don't make a lot of mistakes. They play a lot of guys up in the box. They are pretty good at block protection. They do a lot of man-to-man type of stuff; receivers have to be able to get away from them.

"They do a really nice job on special teams. They have a couple really good skill guys, a really good punt return guy, a really good kickoff return guy, so a lot of challenges on special teams."

Saban participated in the SEC Head Coaches Teleconference Wednesday morning and here are some of his comments:

On Kentucky's Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke:

"Those two guys to me are real play-maker guys. They have lots of guys that can make plays. Randall Cobb, they use him a little bit a quarterback. He is in the slot and returns punts. Locke is really a good runner, a very good athlete and one of the best kickoff return guys in the country. I think those two guys are capable of making explosive plays and certainly guys that we are going to have to do a good job on at the game."

On playing first SEC road game this week:

"Well, we really played Virginia Tech in Atlanta, so that was not really at home. We had to get on an airplane to go over there. We stayed in a hotel. We played in a place that was not our home field and part of the reason we play some of these neutral sites games is to prepare our players to be able to play on the road in this league, which is very, very difficult. The players have to know that they have to stay focused, keep their intensity, sense of urgency, discipline and execution when they are on the road because the momentum of the game is sometimes going to change in the other team's favor and I they have to be able to overcome that. I think that is a mental discipline and a mental toughness that all great competitors need to have and it will certainly be a test when we go to Kentucky."

On whether Greg McElroy has exceeded your expectations or not:

"We don't have expectations for our players. We try to coach our players to be the best they can. We have a lot of confidence in Greg. We felt like he was very capable. He's very bright. He has a good understanding. He is instinctive. He goes to the right place with the ball and is pretty accurate with it. Hopefully our players on offense can continue to play well around him. He'll continue to have opportunities to execute and our play-makers will continue to make plays. We will improve as a team and he will improve as a player and will have an outstanding year."

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