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October 26, 2010

Notebook: LBs around ball nearly as much as 2009

TUSCALOOSA _ For linebackers, it's usually one or the other.

Most excel at either limiting the ground game while others fare better against the pass. It's reflected by this year's University of Alabama football team by the high number of players being rotated and coaches talking advantage of the unit's depth and keying individual strengths.

All this week, BamaOnline will look at statistics you won't see anywhere else in an effort to put the first eight games of the 2010 season into a little perspective.

Today it's measuring which linebackers are around the ball the most.

Here are linebackers with their tackles, assists, sacks, passes defending (interceptions are included in that statistic), hurries, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries:

Linebacker "touches"
Name ........................ T .... A ... Sacks .. PD .. QBH .. FF .. FR .. Total

Dont'a Hightower ..... 22 .... 20 ..... 0 ..... 3 ..... 7 ..... 0 ..... 0 ..... 52
C.J. Mosley ............... 20 .... 17 ... 0.5 .... 7 ..... 1 ..... 0 ..... 0 ..... 45.5
Courtney Upshaw ..... 14 ..... 8 ..... 1 ..... 2 ..... 1 ..... 1 ..... 1 ..... 28
Jerrell Harris ............. 10 ..... 4 ...... 0 ..... 0 ..... 0 ..... 0 ..... 0 ..... 14
Ed Stinson .................. 7 ..... 6 ...... 0 ..... 0 ..... 2 ..... 0 ..... 0 ..... 15
Nico Johnson ............ 14 ..... 7 ..... 0 ...... 2 ..... 0 ..... 0 ..... 0 ..... 23
Alex Watkins .............. 3 ..... 4 ... 1.5 ..... 0 ..... 1 ..... 0 ..... 0 ..... 9.5
Chris Jordan ............... 4 ..... 5 ...... 0 ..... 0 ..... 0 ..... 0 ..... 0 ..... 9
Chavis Williams .......... 3 ..... 3 ...... 0 ..... 0 ..... 2 ..... 0 ..... 0 ..... 8

On average, Hightower is around the ball the most, 6.5 times per game.

In comparison - and it's pretty unfair to do so because of the way the defense is set up and Hightower frequently moves down to the line to pass-rush -- middle linebacker Rolando McClain's average last year was 9.4, followed by Jack linebacker Eryk Anders at 6.9.

However, the overall production of the unit is roughly the same. The regular contributors were around the ball 26.3 plays per game last year, while this year it's 25.5.

Practice report

Coach Nick Saban indirectly acknowledged that junior running back Mark Ingram hasn't quite been the same since having arthroscopic knee surgery first week of the season.

"I'm not disappointed by what he's done, in fact I'm very encouraged by what he's done," Saban said, later adding: "I don't think Mark's had as many opportunities as a year ago, which is not totally his fault, but when he's had opportunities he's done a really good job with them. He hadn't left many yards out there that we should have got.

"I thought he played probably his best for while in the last game too, which is encouraging for us."

Redshirt freshman D.J. Fluker (groin) was back going through drills and shed the black jersey that signaled no contact during Tuesday's practice. Fluker recovered enough that he probably could have played some at Tennessee, but coaches are still being cautious and had junior Alfred McCullough with the top grouping at right tackle.

"Hopefully we can work him back to where we may be able to get him back in the fold for the next game," Saban said.

Defensive backs DeQuan Menzie (groin) and Wes Neighbors (foot sprain) both rode exercise bikes during the workout in shorts and shoulder pads. Coaches hope that the bye week will help with both nagging injuries.

Concussions a concern

With the NFL and NCAA looking to prevent blows to the head, Saban was asked about freshman cornerback DeMarcus Milliner's hit on Tennessee's Denarius Moore, after the wide receiver lost his footing on an end-around.

"I don't really even know if it was helmet-to-helmet," Saban said. "He was really trying to tackle the guy near-leg, near-shoulder as we teach, but the guy was kind of going down. That's one of those things right there where I don't think he was trying to hit the guy in his helmet, but that may have ended up happening."

Although none of the camera angles caught Milliner's helmet directly connecting with Moore's, his head snapped back in a manner consistent with a helmet hit, unlike a shoulder pad that usually cushions the impact.

"I don't think we've ever had a player who intentionally tries to go head-to-head," Saban said. "I would certainly not want them to."

Meanwhile, the Southeastern Conference suspended Mississippi State freshman linebacker Chris Hughes for Saturday's game against Kentucky game due to a flagrant, unsportsmanlike act at the 0:26 mark in the second quarter against UAB. According to the NCAA rule 9-1-4: "No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder."

Tide-bits

Alabama is spending the week both self-critiquing and preparing for future opponents, especially those that run something the Tide hasn't seen yet this season. "We have a lot of things that we can improve on," Saban said. "That is certainly the focus of what we want to do in this week with the bye." Alabama will hold practice Wednesday and Thursday and players will work out on their own Friday before having the weekend off.

One of the advantages of playing for Alabama is getting to know some of the former quarterbacks, and Greg McElroy's family used to tailgate next to Kenny Stabler's. "My favorite player of all-time here is John Parker Wilson, just because I was able to see what kind of competitor he was, the tenacity and toughness he played with," he said. "I just tried to learn a lot from him and he was obviously a great friend of mine as well. He tried to help me every way possible and I really appreciate what he brought to the team and to me as an individual."

Junior center William Vlachos' sprint downfield during running back Trent Richardson's touchdown against Ole Miss was due to guard Chance Warmack taking out the player he was going to block: "Coach (Bobby) Williams got a kick out of it and said I outran a safety for 40 yards. He said he's going to put me on special teams." Don't look for it to happen in the near future, but Vlachos claims to be faster than his quarterback. "I'm faster than Greg, no doubt."

Saban on Phelon Jones, who filled in for Menzie at star: "He did a nice job. Phelon is a smart guy and it's taken a while to kind of learn the system and do things sort of the way we want them done."

McElroy doesn't have any love for his hometown baseball team, but it's an easy choice for him cheering-wise in the World Series. "Die-hard Dodgers fan, I cannot stand the Giants," he said. "I'm pulling for the Rangers."


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