Work in Sports
Deep in talent, deep in attitude, the Tide thinks this is the year it rolls all the way in
By Ivan Maisel
Last season, Alabama won one game by one point, lost two others by the same margin and won three times by making defensive stops on the last play. Along the way a team loaded with freshmen and sophomores soaked up every lesson, and the payoff is coming this fall. Ten of the top 12 tacklers return on defense, and in addition to both quarterbacks, four of the top six receivers and four of the five starters on the line are back. "We've got talent backing up talent," says sophomore strongside linebacker Saleem Rasheed.
Though the Tide lost only six starters, two of them, tailback Shaun Alexander and left tackle Chris Samuels, went in the first round of the NFL draft. In fact Alexander scored most of his 23 touchdowns running behind Samuels. Senior Shaun Bohanon will be the new tailback, and sophomore Dante Ellington, who started at right tackle as a freshman, replaces Samuels.
This year the offense will revolve around unassuming junior wideout Freddie Milons, who at 5'11", 183 pounds and wearing a golf shirt and chinos on a recent afternoon could have been mistaken for just another student. He is the fourth of seven children, which means, as Milons puts it, that he "gets along with everybody." Last season he set a school record for receptions (65), finished fourth in the SEC in punt returns (9.7 yards per return) and gave opposing defensive coordinators nightmares by occasionally lining up at quarterback.
The Zow-Watts debate overshadows two glaring weaknesses the team must address -- placekicking and pass defense. Departed kicker Ryan Pflugner missed four extra points last season, including a costly one in overtime against Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Still, DuBose doesn't believe in spending a scholarship on a placekicker, so walk-ons Chris Kemp, a senior, and Danny Haynes, a freshman, will vie for the job. On defense the Tide allowed an SEC-high 20 touchdown passes last season, and that was before Michigan quarterback Tom Brady threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns on New Year's Day. Injuries were partly to blame for a poor pass rush. Senior defensive tackle Kenny Smith, who suffered torn ligaments in his left knee against LSU, should be ready for the opener against UCLA. Sophomore middle linebacker Marvin Constant, who ripped up his right knee on the final play of the LSU game and needed reconstructive surgery, hopes to be back by midseason. Junior college transfer Aries Monroe will get first crack at filling Constant's spot; if Monroe isn't up to it, Rasheed, who led Alabama last season with 84 tackles as a freshman, may have to move into the middle, as he did last year. "Don't ever think something can't be achieved," he says.
That's one of the lessons he learned last year.
Issue date: August 14, 2000