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SUNDAY, JULY 29, 2007
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Defensive line concerns Bama’s Saban

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

Alabama football coach Nick Saban is constantly embracing the positives within his program.

He mentions them often, about how he is trying to change the football culture in Tuscaloosa. But there is one on-field negative that keeps popping up as Alabama trudges toward its first day of varsity practice Aug. 3.

During spring practice, Saban mentioned the defensive line as a large concern. It is an interesting problem, considering Saban’s reputation as a defensive guru at past stops as the head coach at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins.

Saban will monitor that position closely as the Crimson Tide moves toward its season opener Sept. 1 against Western Carolina at home.

While Alabama loses one starter in defensive tackle Jeremy Clark, the group returns two others.

Senior defensive end Wallace Gilberry had 31/2 sacks last season and 101/2 tackles for lost yardage. As a freshman in 2004, Gilberry had 61/2 sacks and 13 tackles behind the line.

Keith Saunders also returns, but worked this spring at outside linebacker in Saban’s 3-4 scheme.

So has Ezekiel Knight, who returns after missing most of last season with what Saban said was a heart murmur.

They will play mostly at the same spot on the field as in the past, but will stand up more instead of lining up in a three-point stance. It is the same position that Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor played when Saban coached him.

“It’s a new system for them, and we made quite a few mistakes trying to learn that system throughout the spring,” Saban said, “and that’s part of the process.”

One of the major changes included moving backup offensive lineman Brian Motley and putting him at nose tackle.

Motley was one of the pleasant surprises for Alabama during the spring. He won the Bart Starr Most Improved Player Award and had 11 tackles in the team’s first scrimmage. The 6-foot-1, 284-pound redshirt freshman is listed as a starter.

“(Motley) is just an athlete,” center Antoine Caldwell said. “He works hard, is real flexible. He is constantly doing something to do better. He was in a tough position. ... He didn’t feel like he would have a chance to play that much. He found a good place at the defensive line.”

Hoover High defensive line signee Josh Chapman and Athens High product Alfred McCullough could make a difference.

In addition, Saban’s 3-4 defensive can confuse an opposing team’s offense with different looks by disguising blitzes and other stunts.

“I think we are going to surprise some people,” Tide cornerback Simeon Castille said.

“We don’t return a lot of starters (on defense), but a lot of those guys played significantly. I can’t wait to see how well it works.

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