TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For more than a month, Eryk Anders dealt silently with an ankle injury.
In fact, his numbers improved since the senior said it started bothering him during the Oct. 17 win over South Carolina.
Now preparing for his final game in Bryant-Denny Stadium, Anders said he has no doubts he will be ready for the 12:21 p.m. game with Chattanooga — good ankle or not.
Coach Nick Saban said Anders had been dealing with a sprained ankle “for a while” but it got worse last week at Mississippi State. For the overachieving, undersized (6-2, 235 pounds) outside linebacker, however, missing his last game in front of the home crowd is not an option. He was practicing at full speed by the end of the week and should be ready to go by game time.
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For the lightly recruited player out of San Antonio who received just one star of a possible five by scout.com, the 2009 season has been something of a fairytale. His 40 tackles this season — fourth-best on the team — more than doubled his career output through the 2008 season as Anders stepped into the outside linebacker position vacated when Brandon Fanney was kicked off the team before the season.
Wasting no time making an impact, Anders made eight tackles — two for loss — and forced a fumble in the opener with Virginia Tech. From there, he said the improvement is noticeable.
Saban said Anders “has come a long way,” but Javier Arenas took it a step further. For Arenas, a three-star prospect in 2006 and now an All-American, Anders’ is the most improved player of the 26 seniors who will be honored before Saturday’s game.
“Because, honestly from the get-go, he was never in the picture to be a starter,” Arenas said. “He just burst out. And now he’s one of the best out there.”
In spite of all the talk of Anders being undersized, he said his build is actually an asset for his position. The “Jack” linebacker is a hybrid of a defensive end and linebacker that also involves pass coverage.
“Yes, I really like playing it. I really feel like it’s almost custom-built for a person like me, who can rush a passer and drop back and cover,” Anders said. “So I really don’t think I’d be able to play anywhere else. So this position really is a blessing.”
His speed makes him one of the best pass rushers on a defense that stakes its reputation on harassing quarterbacks. Anders’ 11 quarterback hurries leads the team by three over second-best Rolando McClain and his four sacks ranks second behind Marcell Dareus’ 6.5.
“I just keep my hands alive and keep my feet alive,” Anders said. “If the DBs are covering that gives me more time to get there. I just stay moving. They can’t block you forever. Eventually you’re going to get back there.”
The Chattanooga offensive line’s ability to keep quarterback B.J. Coleman from being sacked in three games doesn’t mean much to Anders.
“Well, he’s coming to Alabama now,” Anders said. “We’re going to put the pressure on him.”