Antwan Odom was voted pre-season All-SEC by the media, and Nautyn McKay-Loescher could be just as good. Behind those two stalwarts Randolph will be primarily counting on Leslie Williams, Mark Anderson, Chris Harris and Jonathan Brunson.
NOTE: Todd Bates, who would have battled with McKay-Loescher for a starting job this year, must sit out the season due to inadvertently using a banned supplement.
Sickness and minor injury prevented Odom and McKay-Loescher from playing for a portion of spring drills. "Going through spring with the different injuries and illnesses helped us," Randolph said. "I was kidding with Buddy Wyatt (Tide defensive tackles coach). I told him I started off spring practice with four athletes, then I had three and finally I got down to just two."
But given the necessity of developing quality depth, heading into fall camp Randolph sees what happened in the spring as a positive.
He explained, "We were happy when (the injury and health problems) happened. You want your top guys out there. But that showed us we're definitely going to need our young guys to be ready to play. There is no way to get ready other than to get numerous reps. The younger players got that this past spring.
"That actually helped our depth. Heading into fall we have more guys available and playing well."
Anderson spent last season at outside linebacker. Williams has played a lot during his career, but almost exclusively on special teams. Harris redshirted in 2002. And Brunson is a walk-on who has yet to see game action. No question Bama's back-up D-Ends lack experience, but Randolph sees a positive.
Yes, the regular season will be tough--but no tougher than what his reserves go through every day in practice. Randolph said, "(Our backups) work against a quality O-Line every day. If you can play against our offensive line, then you can play against anybody in the conference. That's the mindset I try to instill in my young guys."
Randolph provided BamaMag.com with a scouting report on his reserve athletes.
It's now been four years since Leslie Williams signed with the Tide, but he still hasn't managed to get his weight up beyond the 225-pound mark. But what he lacks in bulk, Williams makes up for in athleticism. "He runs like the wind," was Randolph's first comment. "Leslie's strength as a player is his speed and his ability to pass rush.
"This season his willingness to be a player for us is key. With the loss of Todd (Bates), Leslie has got to play. He's got to shoulder some of the responsibility for us being a great defense."
Speaking of outstanding athletes, Mark Anderson only moved to defensive end the second half of spring drills. But the talented sophomore quickly showed his coaches he belonged. "Mark's strength (as a player) is his athletic ability," Randolph said. "He's agile; he's quick; he's fast. Mark is like Nautyn, he has a good motor that runs constantly. His strength is going to be his football savvy."
Anderson finished spring weighing 230 pounds, but he's worked all summer to add strength and bulk. "I see him at 255 or 260 in two years and being a heckuva football player," Randolph noted.
At 6-6, 245 (or so) pounds, redshirt freshman Chris Harris has prototype size for defensive end. "He's got to grow and mature into the part, but his strength is his feistiness," Randolph said of his young lineman. "The best thing about him is he doesn't like to be blocked. Chris has got to get stronger upper and lower, but it will happen for him. Before it's said and done he's going to be as big as Antwan. Agility and flexibility are there.
"I expect Chris to be in the rotation sometime this year, gaining valuable experience."
As the backup deep snapper, Jonathan Brunson will be valuable on special teams. But the walk-on junior would like nothing better than to contribute at defensive end as well. He's a tad undersized for the role, but Randolph appreciates his effort. "I love him, because he's one that will die to play--and he'll get there," Randolph said. "Jonathan has a motor. He's football smart. He's going to play somewhere for us this year.
"I really like Jonathan because of the way he goes about his business. To him it means a whole lot to put on the Crimson and White."
Incoming freshmen Wallace Gilberry and Keith Saunders will report with the rest of the returning defensive ends this evening. Both have the potential to develop into excellent players, but barring injuries a redshirt year is probable for the two.
Most fans see Odom and McKay-Loescher as team strengths, with defensive end depth a problem. But don't tell the backups.
Randolph commented, "The young guys think they should be starting, which is exactly what you want. Everybody is competitive."
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