When Marcell Dareus came back for the start of Alabama bowl practice 10 days earlier, the defensive end from Birmingham said, “I don’t like to sit on my butt too long. It’s fun to get back with my teammates.”
The Crimson Tide had a second break between the end of the regular season and Saturday’s Capital One Bowl game against Michigan State when players were released for a short Christmas break. The team assembled in Orlando Saturday evening and was to have an event with children on Sunday before resuming practice.
Dareus was one of the stars of Alabama’s bowl game a year ago, named the most valuable defensive player in Bama’s BCS National Championship Game victory over Texas at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Although he was hampered a bit this year with an ankle problem, the 6-4, 306-pound defensive lineman said, “I actually feel pretty good. Feel like I need to get back into the rhythm a little bit, but I feel pretty good.”
He also doesn’t think there is a problem with a long break between the end of the season and a bowl game. “You just have to know that when you get back, it’s back to work,” he said. He said that players have to do the right things, including getting treatment, getting rest, and getting prepared for practice.
“Get back grinding,” he said. “Get back to work.”
Dareus wasn’t the only Alabama player trying to recover from injury during the season. The defensive end is particularly close to linebacker Dont'a Hightower.
“Dont’a and I are pretty close,” Dareus said. “We have little conversations. We try to help each other. He tells me to not worry about being hurt, just focus on what you need to do. And I tell him same to you. In our defense you got to get it together. And you look back and see how he matured and what he played through, how he had to go through adversity and what he had to go through. His performance changed dramatically.”
Dareus also saw linebacker Courtney Upshaw, offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, and wide receiver Julio Jones, among others, coming back from injuries. “They played real tough,” Dareus said. “You look at them and say they’re still going strong, still working hard. There’s no excuse for me to be on the sideline or sitting down at practice. I’ve got to work just as hard as they work. They want to win, I want to win.”
After the bowl game, attention regarding Dareus will turn to his football future, whether he returns to Alabama for a final season or whether he goes into the NFL draft.
He was asked about seeing his name on ESPN’s potential draft list, where he has been listed as a top 10 selection.
“I don’t mean to disappoint anybody,” Dareus said, “but honestly I don’t watch ESPN like that. Only time I watch it is when my roommate, Jerrell Harris, watches it and he makes me watch it. So I don’t really watch sports like that. I don’t focus on that. I’m worried about this last game, focus in, get a ‘W.’ Do the best we can out there. I don’t look at the rankings, I don’t look at the big boards, nothing like that.”
Now that you’ve gotten through it, how tough was it to play six opponents who had bye weeks before playing Alabama?
It was pretty tough, but Coach Saban did a good job of putting in our heads that it wasn’t about the bye week, it was about who wants to win. We go out there and prepare the best we can throughout the week and not worry about what they are doing in their bye week. We know they are going to study us. We’re just going to do the best we can.
Are you getting evaluated?
Coach Saban says it’s a good idea to get evaluated. Other than that, wait and see.
Have you seen Dont’a Hightower on film. He’s a linebacker, but I’ve seen him put right tackles on their backs.
I think he’s been watching a little too much of my highlight tapes. To be honest with you, he’s a nice little defensive end at heart. He’s a real good athlete. He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to get leverage and he knows how to make plays with one hand in the dirt; throwing people, man-handling people. He has a good time out there.