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Alabama's Dareus moving to head of the class

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Picking the guy out of Alabama’s 2008 recruiting class most likely to succeed is like picking the best fishing spots in the Florida Keys.

They’re everywhere.

Julio Jones has already succeeded. So has Mark Ingram and so has Terrence Cody and so has Dont’a Hightower.

Well, you get the idea.

But the guy from that star-studded class who has greatness written all over him that’s just now starting to scratch the surface of how good he can be is sophomore defensive end Marcell Dareus.

The 6-foot-4, 296-pound Dareus is second in the SEC with 3.5 sacks and will be gunning for Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett on Saturday.

"He's a gunslinger, and we're going to have to get to him," Dareus said.

A perfect fit for Alabama’s scheme, Dareus can play inside or outside. He’s stout against the run and rushes the passer equally well, particularly when the Crimson Tide go to their “Rabbit” package on obvious passing downs.

“He’s improved dramatically from last year,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We saw a lot of ability from him last year. But sometimes, when guys aren’t sure what they’re doing and they don’t have a lot of confidence, it affects how fast they play in the game.”

Dareus was one of 16 true freshmen to play a year ago for the Crimson Tide, but he admits that he was flying blind much of the time.

The complexity of Alabama’s schemes did a number on him, but Dareus credits defensive line coach Bo Davis for reeling him back in and getting him up to speed.

“I was getting discouraged last year because I wasn’t getting the plays and didn’t understand everything,” Dareus said. “But coach Davis sat me down and said not to get discouraged, that it usually takes people a year to understand our playbook and get it down. He told me to just keep working and that I’d get it.

“I see what he’s saying now, because I’ve picked it up and am playing a lot faster. I’m reacting faster and doing everything faster. I’m not thinking nearly as much.”

That’s bad news for opposing offensive linemen in this league, because physically, Dareus is a handful.

Saban said he’s improved in every area, from a technique standpoint, from a pass-rushing standpoint and to just a general understanding of how Alabama’s defense works.

“He’s a very good player for us and am sure he’ll continue to improve as the year goes on,” Saban said.

Dareus, who played at the same high school in the Birmingham area (Huffman) as former Outland Trophy winner Andre Smith, is one of nine guys from the 2008 class who’s now starting. Of the 23 players still on the team from that class, 21 have played in games.

“I had a feeling about our class when I met some of the guys,” Dareus said. “We all have talent, and we all play hard. When you get people together like that, guys who love the game the way we do, it’s got a chance to be something special.”