News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Knight back from heart ailment
Tide junior sees action at linebacker

By Josh Cooper · 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — Ezekial Knight is as versatile as they come. Tall, lean, strong, Knight has the kind of frame to play several positions. And he has, since he arrived at Alabama in 2004, successfully transitioning from wide receiver to defensive end and now linebacker.

But it was the transition that Knight feared, which would have been the most difficult and painful for the 6-foot-4 redshirt junior: From student-athlete to student.

The day following Alabama’s 24-23 loss at Arkansas on Sept. 23, Knight felt light-headed and his arms felt numb.

He called teammate Darren Mustin to take him to the hospital. Knight wanted to know what was wrong with him. He wanted closure. What he received was more questions.

Physicians could not find the problem. Was it a spot on his brain that was detected? Was it high cholesterol? What else could it be?

“That was very hard. It was stressful and everything,” Knight said.” But I just thought positive about the whole thing.”

Every week, former coach Mike Shula fielded questions about Knight, and every week Shula had to give the runaround. If doctors didn’t know what was wrong, then how could the coach?

It took about four or five months for Knight’s anxiety to go away.

He was eventually diagnosed with a heart murmur. It was explained to Knight that it was supposed to close when he was a child, but it didn’t. He underwent surgery in January

When Knight returned for spring practice, first-year coach Nick Saban had a surprise waiting for him, in the form of a position change.

When Knight got hurt, he was a defensive end. But in Saban’s new 3-4 defensive scheme he was moved to linebacker.

It was a move that was perplexing to Knight, but then he started to see the positives.

Knight fit Saban’s mold of a tall athletic “Sam” linebacker. Knight played wide receiver his freshman and sophomore years, making his speed a positive if it meant dropping back into coverage.

And as a defensive end for four games last season, Knight was able to understand what it took to rush the passer. But he was doing it from his crouch, low on the defensive line. If he rushes the quarterback from his current slot, he will be standing up.

“A couple of years ago, I was running the routes. Now I am covering the routes,” Knight said. “Standing up. It’s all the same to me. I’m just going to play hard.”

If you want to look at the kind of impact the position switch could make, Miami Dolphins
defensive end Jason Taylor would be the most intriguing parallel.

When Saban went to Miami in 2005, he moved Taylor to the same kind of position Knight is playing, and the past two seasons, Taylor had 12 sacks and 131/2 sacks in 2005 and 2006 respectively. In 2006, Taylor won NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

It may be too soon to tell whether Knight can have that kind of impact, but Saban is at least pleased with Knight’s progress.

“He has been able to focus more and more all the time,” Saban said.

“That is something that we have emphasized with the whole team, and I think in Zeke’s case he is responding nicely.”

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