Tide Linebackers Then And Now

A coaching staff opting for a 3-4 defensive alignment must believe the roster possesses an abundance of talent at the linebacker position to employ the versatile scheme. The 1992 Alabama foursome of Antonio London, Derrick Oden, Michael Rogers and Lemanski Hall proved worthy as they tormented runners, receivers and quarterbacks to rank as four of the top five leading tacklers on the team.

Here is the second of our four-part series in which we talk with Alabama players from the defense on the 1992 Crimson Tide national championship team about the 2009 Bama defense.

      Antonio London runs a facility management company in the Birmingham area called Championship Enterprises. 

London's impression of the 2009 UA defensive unit – "Pretty darn good.  I like the tenacity they have but more important I like the way they all play together."   

London's assessment of the 2009 linebackers – "They are what you want, especially in the 3-4 scheme.  One, they have to be big enough and physical enough in order to do what is expected of them.  On top of that you've got to have the speed and agility to get away and get people off of you to get where you need to be." 

London's comments on the linebacker playing his position – "Probably a little bigger, a little stronger and a little faster than I was at but the same tenacity is there.  The hunger and the will to succeed are the characteristics they have if you want to compare them to what we had back in 1992.  Keep in mind I was a guy that played the outside position but on third down since I wasn't blessed with the ability to cover I put my hand down and rushed the passer.  So a couple of guys do what I did.  I kind of did them both.  When you go to that nickel package you have to have somebody who can get to the quarterback." 

London's comparison of the 1992 and 2009 UA defensive teams – "I don't think you really can compare the two.  I'm not saying they were better than we were.  I'm not saying we were better than they were but to be really fair you have to go back and look at all the snaps that we played in comparison to the number of snaps they played.  I think the things you do have in common as I mentioned before is the will to succeed and do whatever it takes and the way they are able to play collectively as a unit.

"Obviously, we both played the 3-4 scheme so you have those similarities.  To compare us to them with the two different eras would be really tough unless you have all the stats. Today they spread you out a little bit more and there is more variety of offensive packages out there. Its different playing when you're down or up by three or up by seven as opposed to when you're up by 20 and 30. A lot of times this year we had the luxury if you want to call it that of being in a position where we had the game in hand sometimes by halftime if not by the middle of the third quarter. I think when you look at championship teams across the board you look at what they do from the beginning of the season to the end of the season. You're really not for sure exactly who you're going to count on in which games so everyone truly has to be ready.

"I remember going back to the year we won the championship the Mississippi State game. We were totally dependent on our offense and special teams to pull us through. Defensively we gave up a little bit more than we normally do so you never know who's going to have to step up and be the man. Once again I reiterate this team playing right now for Coach Saban collectively they understand we're going to do whatever it takes. It doesn't matter whether special teams, offense or defense or specific play calling by the coaches. We're going to do whatever it takes to get us to the point where we want to be."  

London on standout defender – "Rolando McClain is just an outstanding player.  The more I listen to him and the more I read about him what makes him great to me is what he does off-the-field.  Obviously we know he's a great player on-the-field.  We know that he won the Butkus Award but listening to the hours that he put into the game off-the-field, studying the film and learning, they say that when they do give him a break in practice he's not over at the water trough which they don't have those anymore anyways, he's out there watching.  He's coaching and paying attention.

"I got a chance to go in a meeting when he was a freshman.  I was really impressed because he knew everything.  He made all the calls and all the adjustments.  That is just a credit to who he is as a player and sometimes people get caught up in the accolades and what a guy does on Saturday but they have no idea what work goes into exactly what it took to get him to where he is right now today." 

London on the 2009 season - "We're excited obviously because we finally have the opportunity to be back to where we think The University of Alabama should always be and that's on top.  We have one game to get out here to prove ourselves and prove that we deserve to be number one in the country.  Living in the Birmingham area now is really cool because you're always high-fiving and seeing everybody walking around and driving around with the Alabama flags, shirts and jerseys.  Even when I was down in Orlando you could seeing people pulling for Alabama saying ‘Roll Tide, Roll Tide'.  It's just a great experience to have the university back to where we all believe it should be.  It is a great thing."   ? 

Derrick Oden has been a pharmaceutical salesman for 10 years living in Decatur.  Prior to completing his prep career at Tuscaloosa Hillcrest, California native Oden played for Pasadena High School in the Rose Bowl against rival John Muir High School every Thanksgiving in the game known as "The Turkey Tussle".

?Oden's impression of the 2009 UA defensive unit - "After watching them play and practice this year, they are a talented bunch.  They definitely have got a lot of depth and a lot of size.  They seem to be hungry.  They remind me of our defense of 1992.  Just watching them in a practice setting they seem to have fun.  A lot of times teams don't have that camaraderie but these guys seem to have that chemistry that you don't see much.  That is one of the major comparisons that I noticed in how they are similar to us.  They are out there playing as a unit with each one playing a supportive role feeding off the other." 

Oden's assessment of the 2009 linebackers – "The linebackers are impressive.  People are always wanting to compare the two defenses.  If you were to match Dont'a Hightower and myself up, he towers over me.  Everybody wants to look at size, strength and speed but there is more to the game than just size.  I think there has been some guys out there that I compare myself to that are a lot bigger than me that didn't get things done that I got done. 

"If you put us side by side, I know he is more athletic than I was when I played.  He seems to be a student of the game.  You can tell the passion he has for the game just by talking to him and watching him play the game.  Rolando McClain is the same way.  Those guys are like heat seeking missiles.  I watch them fly around and attack the ball.  There is really not a whole lot they can't do.  They are like forwards on a basketball team.  The way they move around the field is so different than the player in my era.  Putting us side-by-side I don't know what inspires them but I know how I played the game.  I love the game of football.  I was passionate about playing for the university.  The one comparison I do see is he (Hightower) and I and Rolando, talking to him, love the game of football."   

Oden discussing the linebacker responsibilities of different eras – "It's a different day and age then when I played football.  Today's athletes are more athletic.  They are more developed coming out of high school.  They are playing in different systems in high school.  The system I played in high school was to stop the run.  There weren't a lot of spread offenses.  You basically measured a defensive team by their toughness.  It was more physical.  Today's game is more of a finesse game.  I don't think our defense could have done as well in today's game as these guys are doing in today's game.  Football is different.  The system is different.  Yes, its football but when we played the teams that did that was Florida with Steve Spurrier where he would spread you out and trick you.  Everything was deception, misdirection, play action, spread you out and run the draw.  That was maybe one or two schools or universities you played in a season.  Now you're subject to see that every week.  With coaching and preparation, I think "Brother" Oliver our defensive coordinator would have put us in the best situation to play against these teams.  We had some pretty good athletes." 

Oden on standout defender – "I like to watch Marcel Dareus play.  He's one of those guys that brings it on every play.  He brings it with a reckless abandon that's contagious."  

Oden's comparison of the 1992 and 2009 UA defensive teams – "If you look at the total defense, our secondary is probably more talented.  If you were to look at the groupings, the defensive line vs. defensive line, linebackers vs. linebackers and secondary vs. secondary, I think our secondary is probably more talented.  I think you could create the separation when you break it down at all those four positions.  The linebackers, I have to give it to these guys.  I like watching them.  Michael Rogers and I were run stoppers.  We went in there and gave our bodies up.  We dropped into pass coverage and played zone and even played man-to-man but it's so much different.  You've got tight ends these days that are 6-6 and receivers like Julio Jones who are 6-4 and 6-5.  It's amazing to watch athletes of their size move like they do.

"The defensive backs Woodall and Barron are just about as big as Rolando.  These guys are huge.  When I look at them I think of basketball. They don't have a jump shot otherwise they would be playing basketball.  You could not compare our defense to the Alabama team of the 1960s.  Those players back then, respectfully, were good during their era.  As a team everybody is competing for success.  I don't mean individual success.  We fed off of each other and I see these guys feeding off of each other too especially when they are being challenged like the Tennessee game.  Anyone in the country couldn't have told you that was going to happen twice (block kicks).  Players playing the game with passion, a certain tenacity and competing for national championships, there are a lot of similarities. 

"I think you can attribute the success to Coach Saban and his staff.  I attribute a lot of our success to our preparation.  Brother Oliver, Jeff Rouzie and Mike DuBose came early and stayed late.  When you walked out of a position or defensive team meeting and you walked out onto the field Saturday, you knew you were ready to play the game.  I believe these guys put the players in the best situation to run free, be relaxed and make plays." 

Oden on the 2009 defensive team being considered in the same category as the 1992 defensive team – "The ultimate measure is if you walk away with the trophy at the end of the year.  If you put us in this era and try and play against some of these schemes, we might not have won a championship.  We were good for our time.  These guys are good for their time.

"I wish them all the luck in the world. If they win a championship and everybody wants to put us on paper with them side-by-side which I have seen, you can't take away what we accomplished.  They'll never be another 11 guys like us not to say we were the best because they'll be another 11 guys who will accomplish the same feats but we're one of a kind.

"I bleed crimson.  I want to see those kids have all the success in the world.  I want to see them establish themselves as something we talk about years down the road.  This is Alabama.  I expect us to win every game we step on the field and play.  The fan base and the alumni expect the same thing.

"I think we have an awesome coach in place that's making this happen.  He is winning the recruiting battle.  I won't even call it a contest.  I was telling somebody at practice the other day, I've never seen this team just as deep as we are at every position and we have guys coming in.  You create that environment and make it attractive for these young players and we will continue to have these types of recruiting years.  Alabama is a powerhouse and we're getting back to national dominance.  It's very nice to see.

"I hope these kids win the national championship and show the dominance of Alabama and the SEC.  I think the best players from around the country want to play in the SEC because they know they're playing against the best.  That says a lot for a kid who puts their name on the dotted line to play for University of Alabama.  There are a lot of ghosts in those halls who are watching and the expectations are high."       ? 

Lemanski Hall is an assistant football coach/linebackers at Nashville's Ensworth High School, a private school only in the third year of varsity competition.  He has taught a fitness class the past two years.

Hall's impression of the 2009 defensive unit - "Overall one thing I look at their defense is the size and speed of those guys.  I can't remember having any of my teammates as big as Cody, McClain or even Hightower.  I've been impressed.  They get off the field on third down.  They've got a good run defense.

"My honest opinion is I don't think they compare to what we had in 1992.  First of all we led every category in the NCAA defensively.  All of our guys were playmakers.  If you look at all the guys on our defense that went to the pros, there are a lot.  We didn't allow anybody to move the ball on us.  We just came out each and every Saturday and totally dominated the football game.  Our mindset was it doesn't matter where we get the ball at, our job is to not to let them score and that was the mentality we took on the field."  Hall's assessment of the 2009 linebackers - "I'm impressed with the two inside guys, McClain and I was a big fan of Hightower.  I think he (Hightower) is a tremendous player.  Reamer is okay.  He is not really a standout in my opinion but he's doing what they are asking him to do.  Overall I think this is a good linebacking crew.  For sure I like McClain and Hightower. 

"Nico Johnson, the freshman, is going to be really good.  He's making plays.  For a freshman to come in, I don't care what position he is playing and contribute and have an impact really shows that kid can play.  He's come in and held his own.  He's not the weak link of the defense and he's going to get better.  There is a lot of upside to his game.  He can't help but get better playing along McClain and those other guys." 

Hall's comparison of the 1992 and 2009 UA defensive teams - "The hardest thing for me as a former player is to try to compare teams because it's hard to do.  We played in '92 and these guys are playing now with two different types of schemes.  The guys are bigger, stronger and faster.  The offenses are complex and so are the defenses.  I will say this is a good defense.  When people talk about defenses and they talk about the '92 defense, everybody can remember that '92 defense.  That's all they want to talk about is the '92 defense.  I'm not talking about the Alabama program.  I'm talking about across college football.  That's when you know we had a great defense.  That's all they talk about.  You guys had a great defense.  That's what I remember." 

Hall on the 2009 defensive team being considered in the same category as the 1992 defensive team - "The only way they can measure up is go out and win the national championship.  If they win the national championship and in every category be number one then they can be at that level.  Until then they're just another good defense.  For a century Alabama has always had good defenses.  Until this 2009 Alabama defense goes out and wins the national championship and ranks high in every category - that is the only way I can compare."

Hall describing his role on the 1992 team and the cohesiveness of his teammates - "One thing I will say about my role on that defense was I was just another guy trying to take care of his responsibility.  I took pride in playing for The University of Alabama.  One thing I always reminded myself of when I stepped out onto that field was I wanted the guys before me to appreciate the way I played.  I wanted the guys when I left to appreciate the way I played the game.  I wanted my teammates at the end of the day to say Lemanski Hall was a part of something great.  I didn't want to disappoint them.  I didn't want to be the weak link so it was important that I played hard and as a unit we played together and took care of our responsibilities.  If one guy doesn't take care of his responsibility there will be a gap in the defense.  If you go back and ask people that were part of our team, they will say we practiced hard everyday.  We practiced like it was a game.  When we got to the game it was about having fun, going out and dominating."

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