TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 08: Dee Milliner #28 of the Alabama Crimson Tide intercepts a pass intended for Jonathan Krause #17 of the Vanderbilt Commodores at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 8, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Q: What's the biggest area of improvement you've had since you've been at Alabama?
A: Probably just within the game. It feels slower to me now because it goes so fast at practice, so it's very easy. My first year I got here I was kind of iffy about where I was supposed to be on the field and stuff like that. When we would call something I would second guess myself. I would look to Mark or Dre. Mark knew what he was doing all the time, so I just looked to him. Now when I see it I know the checks already, what we're going to go to if this happens or that happens. Now I feel like it's natural to me.
"Once you get it, it's just like anything else," DePriest said. "It's repetitive, but it's like I said, it's like anything else. Once you get it, you kind of know what you're doing." As a true freshman, DePriest saw the field for all 13 games and tallied 25 tackles. He made a name for himself on special teams, but he also gained valuable experience at linebacker behind the likes of Dont'a Hightower, Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley. With Hightower gone to the NFL, DePriest could be next in line for some serious repetitions at the center of the Crimson Tide defense. "You've got to build the trust with the whole unit," DePriest said. "Once that trust is built, you can run around and do what you need to do easier."
Both our offensive front and our defensive front, that’s where we’ve got to make great strides," Hoke said. "At the same time, that’s where we also need to — as we get a little further along — find out where our depth’s going to be on both sides of the ball." Senior defensive lineman Craig Roh echoed his head coach’s sentiments, saying his unit is not quite where it needs to be. Though he and his fellow seniors relish the opportunity ahead of them right out of the gate. "It’s a sense of urgency that you need to improve on what you need to improve on now," Roh said. "You can’t have a bad practice. That’s just honestly how it needs to be. "Every senior wants to make their mark on the program. It’s no different for our senior class."
"I think both of them realize that they have an outstanding opportunity to play at the University of Michigan and get a great Michigan degree," Hoke said. "They understand that there is a standard of performance from the community and a standard of performance from the academic side and there is a standard of performance from a football side that they have to do a great job and understand. As coaches you are a teacher and you get an opportunity to teach life lessons. Believe me, they have paid a heavy price and will continue to pay a price for actions unbecoming of a Michigan football player." As for their status for the Alabama game, Hoke said, "I haven’t made that decision and I probably won’t make that decision for a while."
Hoke announced Sunday that senior wide receiver Roy Roundtree had arthroscopic knee surgery on Friday, and is expected back in two weeks. "He had a little cartilage that he needed cleaned up, we expect him back in two weeks," Hoke said. "Everything went great, he feels great. "It was just one of those things." Roundtree, who is expected to be one of Michigan's leading pass-catchers this season, hurt his knee "walking back to the huddle" at practice last week. "A lot of guys come back in two weeks (from surgery like this)," Hoke said. "Our doctors did a tremendous job, we have a great medical staff. "Everything went well from talking to them. ... And you've got a guy like Roy, who is a committed guy, he's going to do everything in his power to get back."
Do you see an increase in intensity in practice because you know the first opponent is Alabama?
You come to play football at Michigan to play in those kind of ballgames. You're expected to play and perform, and playing the defending national champs is a great challenge and a great opportunity. Going to play at a venue like Cowboys Stadium there in Arlington, I think that's going to be a lot of fun.
"It's definitely an area where young guys can step up and make a big influence on the game," Sunseri said. The former star linebacker at Northridge High School in Tuscaloosa saw some action last season as a backup safety and played more after Will Lowery was injured in a victory over Georgia Southern. Many of his 31 tackles (18 unassisted) came on kickoff coverage. Only eight Alabama players had more tackles. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, a first-round draft choice, had one less tackle. DePriest had 25 tackles (14 solo), with many coming on kickoff coverage. "That's where you get your stripes," DePriest said of special teams. "They've got to trust you one way or another. And I feel like if you go out and do what you need to do on special teams, that builds the trust."
"I look at my accomplishments through my teammates," he said Thursday. "My teammates are very important to me and all the college experience that I have so far goes to my teammates -- defense, offense, coaches -- I try not to look at the media too much. I just try to focus on football and being the best player I can be."
It's "a great tradition we have here at Alabama where our entire team goes to church together," Saban said Saturday after the Crimson Tide's first preseason scrimmage. "I look forward to that and get to review the films tomorrow afternoon and think the most important thing for every players is to just evaluate the way you are."
The knocks against Missouri are obvious: Its defense can be shaky and it's in for a bump in competition after moving to the SEC. Both are valid, well-reasoned points. Neither justifies overlooking the Tigers' high-powered offense, which ranked 12th nationally in 2011. Though it could struggle against some of the nation's premier defenses, an attack fronted by dual-threat quarterback James Franklin, wideout T.J. Moe and freshman man-child Dorial Green-Beckham (who hauled in a national-record 6,353 receiving yards at Hillcrest (Mo.) High) should partake in its fair share of shootouts. Mizzou should also benefit from its schedule. If it can somehow squeak by either Georgia or South Carolina in September, the remainder of its slate -- save for a daunting Oct. 13 date with Alabama -- seems manageable. The Tigers skirt LSU and Arkansas and play just one preseason Top 25 team (No. 23 Florida) in their final five games.
"We were all sad for him because we love him like a brother," said defensive end Barkevious Mingo. "But it's just one of those things that has to happen." Mingo is a member of Les Miles' 22-man unity council, a contingent of leaders made up from every part of the Tigers' roster. The head coach's message for his leaders and for his team is the same one he delivered to reporters Friday afternoon -- they must push forward. "There were some emotional feelings in this building, but I think they understand that they've got to go on," Miles said. "The easiest place, where the understanding of what transpired was here, because they're informed -- they got it."
The expectations factor is an important one. The fickle nature of the Heisman electorate is legendary and there will be many people dissecting his numbers and poking holes in his game. His NFL potential will be bandied about with every touchdown or interceptions. But even though he's the front runner heading into the season, Barkley is by no means a lock to win. As the favorite, much will be expected of him. Barkley will not lack for media attention. Every USC game will be closely watched, with the Oregon, Stanford, Notre Dame and potential conference title game matchups being the big ones. This carries with it as much risk as it does reward. Those advocating on Barkley's behalf will need to control the narrative and not let the meme grow, as it did last season with Andrew Luck, that he is underperforming compared to other candidates in the race.