Bama's secondary must be better

Even though he's a senior four-year starter at cornerback, most pundits probably wouldn't have chosen Gerald Dixon as one of the three key Tide players in Saturday's match-up with the Volunteers. <p> But Dixon is Bama's most experienced cover man, and how he fares against Tennessee's talented receivers will go a long way toward determining the game's outcome.

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Headed into his senior year, Dixon's past performance had been solid at best. But two factors have worked to transform him this season. Professional coaching provided by the new Tide staff gave him renewed confidence. And fierce competition from Alabama's young defensive backs frankly lit a fire under him.

In year's past, Dixon's nickname of "Smoke" was seen by many fans as a bad joke. But beginning last spring and carrying over through this fall the senior cornerback has been a different player. His 29 tackles are ninth best on the team, and Dixon's two interceptions and six pass breakups pace the defense.

Determined to make the most of his final season of college football, Dixon has become the emotional leader of the Tide secondary.

For Bama to have a chance, Gerald Dixon must play well.

Though he works hard in the weight room, Dixon is only 5-10, 182 pounds. So no one should expect the Tide coaches to leave him isolated one-on-one with Tennessee's Kelley Washington. But as Bama's most effective cornerback, Dixon will undoubtedly be a crucial part of the various schemes Carl Torbush will utilize to try and neutralize "the Future."

Earlier in Dixon's career he was not noted for his physical play, but so far in 2002 that has been a different story. However, Saturday's game will be his (and the rest of Bama's secondary) biggest test.

In last year's game bigger, more physical Tennessee receivers (Washington and Witten particularly) frankly embarrassed Dixon and the rest of the Tide secondary, breaking tackles and piling up yards after the catch. How the Alabama DBs handle the physical challenge presented by the Volunteer wideouts will be crucial to the game's outcome.

Carl Torbush will do everything he can to help out his athletes, mixing zone with man-to-man so as not to leave a smaller athlete alone against either Witten or Washington. But Tennessee has smart coaches, too, and Dixon and his running mates will have to win their share of the individual battles for Alabama to have a chance to win Saturday.

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