As is widely known, Alabama Coach Nick Saban handles coaching the defensive backs himself, and he takes it quite seriously.
In many ways, his defense is built around them: If those four or five guys can cover the receivers the way they’re supposed to, it allows him and Kirby Smart to mix up blitz packages and send lots of pressure with the linebackers and not have to drop them into coverage.
Since he’s been at Alabama, Saban has recruited big, physical and fast cornerbacks and safeties, and they’ve consistently been the best in the country, especially considering the complicated nature of Saban’s defenses.
Much talent and experience left the field at the end of the 2011 season, including first-round NFL Draft picks Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick. A third, DeQuan Menzie, was taken in the fifth round.
Who’s left, and who needs to step up to fill the holes? In a two-part piece, we’ll break down who’s going to be in the secondary for the Crimson Tide in 2012, starting with safeties. There’s somewhat of a lack of experience overall, but there’s no lack of talent.
Size: 6-foot-2, 210 pounds
2011 stats: 36 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 pass break-ups, forced fumble, 1 TFL, blocked field goal
Breakdown: Lester no doubt anchors the secondary in the upcoming season. He’s a true veteran, having started all 13 games in the 2011 season and all 13 in the 2010 season. His breakout game came in 2010 against Arkansas, when he intercepted Hog quarterback Ryan Mallet late in the game and returned it inside the 10 yard line, setting up the go-ahead score. He should be the uncontested leader of the secondary this season, taking over former free safety Mark Barron’s pre-snap role as the signal caller and as the guy the more inexperienced defensive backs can look to for direction. If anyone’s going to replace the hole left by a guy like Mark Barron, it will have to be Lester.
Size: 6-foot, 215 pounds
2011 stats: 31 tackles
Breakdown: Sunseri made quite a splash in his debut as a freshman in the 2011 season, making big hits on special teams, flying around the field on kickoffs and punts, hitting hard and exciting spectators with his fiery celebrations. He also had a heck of an A-Day game, getting both a pick and forcing a fumble late in the game — both of which led to touchdowns. He has the potential to be a real star, and his size (he came out of high school as a linebacker) and ambition should help him succeed in Saban’s secondary.
Size: 6-foot-1, 203 pounds
2011 stats: N/A
Breakdown: “Ha Ha,” as is Clinton-Dix’s nickname, was the top safety in the 2011 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com. Much to Saban’s prototype, Clinton-Dix “smacks people right int he mouth,” says his rivals.com profile. His only recruiting knock was his size, being deemed a little thin. After two off-seasons in the Tide’s conditioning program, though, he should be ready to go in 2012. He’s listed as Sunseri’s backup, but he’ll probably get a good bit of playing time if he’s learned Saban’s system well. With his talent and athleticism, he should be fun to watch the next few seasons.
Class: True freshman
Size: 6-foot-1, 200 pounds
2011 stats: N/A
Collins was one of the gems of the 2012 recruiting class, though there was no shortage of drama in his commitment and announcement, as the Dutchdown, La. native and his mom had quite a tiff over his selection, ultimately leading to he and his mom disagreeing on national television when he made his selection at the Under Armour All-American Game. All that put to bed, Collins did sign with the Tide and will enroll in the fall. Whether he takes a redshirt is another case, but he’s got the size, speed and build to play immediately as a true freshman. Scout.com’s report on Collins says he “looks like a linebacker on the field,” and that his hard-hitting ability makes him stand out (again—all very Sabanesque).
Size: 6-foot-1, 208 pounds
2011 stats: Two tackles
Breakdown: Perry only saw playing time in two games last season, but he was officially listed as a second-stringer in the spring depth chart. That could change if Collins doesn’t take a redshirt and proves worthy of taking over Perry’s second-string spot. Scout.com says he has good coverage awareness, size and tackling ability, and that he’s “a smart player who rarely lets anyone get behind him.” It’ll be interesting to see where he is on the depth chart when the season starts.
Size: 6-foot-1, 212 pounds
2011 stats: Four tackles
Breakdown: Williams hasn’t played much in his Alabama career thus far, and that may not change in the upcoming season. He wasn’t listed on the spring depth chart, though he would presumably be third behind Clinton-Dix at strong safety or third behind Perry at free safety. His Scout.com says he’s a headhunter and has good size, strength and ball skills.
Follow Jim on Twitter.