TUSCALOOSA _ University of Alabama junior linebacker Alex Watkins looked surprised to get the question Tuesday afternoon.
Do you think the rivalry with Tennessee has lost any of its edge?
"Did you see the game last year?" he responded. "I don't think so."
Watkins, who hails from Brownsville, is one of numerous players on the Crimson Tide from the Volunteer state, along with Chris Jordan (Brentwood), brothers Barrett and Harrison Jones (Memphis), Dont'a Hightower (Lewisburg), Keiwone Malone (Memphis), Brandon Ivory (Memphis), and long-snapper Carson Tinker (Murfreesboro).
Many of them are looking for extra tickets from teammates for family members.
"It's a real big game, kind of like the Iron Bowl," said Hightower, who will be making his second trip to Knoxville as an Alabama starter. "We expect them to come out and throw everything at us."
Watkins was initially recruited by Mike Shula's staff and committed months before Nick Saban was hired in Jan. 2007.
"Coach Saban came to my school and told me how they planned on using me and stuff like that. It wasn't a big change. I was more committed to the school than the coach."
Growing up just south of Nashville, Alabama had to compete with Vanderbilt to land Hightower.
"I never really had a lot of interest in going to the University of Tennessee," he said. "They were trying to recruit me at linebacker, but at the time I wanted to play a little bit of offense. They told me I could play offense but Tennessee was kind of known for telling you that you that you can come here and play this position, but once you get there you're stuck there and they change your position. I wasn't looking forward for that to happen."
Unlike many of his teammates, Hightower doesn't know many players on the Tennessee roster except for those he's hosted during recruiting, like sophomore Marsalis Teague.
"Played a lot of receiver and they moved him to cornerback," he said.
Tackle D.J. Fluker (groin) remained in black, signaling no contact. Although he appeared to be moving better the redshirt freshman likely won't play until the LSU game after the bye week.
Redshirt freshman running back Eddie Lacy (knee), was also in black, but appeared to be more limited than Fluker.
Hightower told reporters that he's still taking precautionary measures with his surgically-repaired knee.
"It's getting kind of colder so it's going to bug me, but I'll be able to adjust," he said. "Throughout classes I try and keep heat or ice on it, or take Tylenol just to keep it safe and under wraps."
Sophomore running back Trent Richardson had a memorable interview session with reporters.
- On Terrence Cody celebrating after his game-clinching blocked field goal last year: "He came running toward me and I actually started running from him. He was all happy and stuff and I didn't want him to fall on me."
- Cody apparently told teammates beforehand that he felt like he was going to get his second block of the game. "I guess he felt real good about it."
- On junior receiver Julio Jones playing with a broken hand. "Julio is Julio. Julio always looks good at what he does. I don't see any difference in him."
- On playing special teams and making five tackles: "I enjoy it a lot. I get to show off all my ability. I love being a defender down there or being the next man, someone tries to block me and I overpower him and get to the next one and the runner. You play running back you get tired of being hit all the time. You want to give someone a hit."
Also, look for William Vlachos to make himself available to reporters Wednesday.
Richardson said Vlachos had been giving him grief about "nearly" outracing him to the end zone during the 85-yard touchdown Saturday. When asked what kind of a head start the junior center would really need to do so the running back said "eighty yards."
Stopping the run
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley told reporters in Knoxville that he's impressed with Alabama's defense.
"Well, first of all, it's nearly impossible to run the ball," he said. "I think they've gone, how many games without a 100-yard rusher? That isn't luck. They've got some stout guys up front. I mean stout. Thick. They play with great pad level. There's just not a lot of room in there. And they fly to the ball.
"And then, like they always do, they get you behind the chains and then here comes -- affect the quarterback. Ole Miss had what, 40 yards at halftime, 47 yards at halftime? That's not luck. That's good defense."
Hightower credited attention to detail for the defensive improvement last week.
"Coach Saban and the other coaches have been preaching about doing the little things, whether it be lining up a yard or two yards outside of the seam, or not getting your head across the tackle or anything like that," he said. "I feel like the last week that's what we've been doing and seen the results so that's the approach we're taking this week, try and do the little things right."
Watkins considers taking out two players at once on a punt return the equivalent to a 1-9 split in bowling, which just happened to be the uniform numbers of the Ole Miss players. "I didn't know I took out two people," he said. "I was really aiming for No. 9, but I said, 'I'm going nudge him on the way over.' I got both, it's like a split. Split, boom, got it."
Watkins on losing to South Carolina: "We needed that punch to the face. ... We know that we need to work on stuff. We're not invincible."