HEADLINER: Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix (JR.)
WHO TO WATCH: Landon Collins (SO.)
For the Alabama Crimson Tide, losing a Thorpe Award Finalist and Top 10 NFL Draft pick at cornerback is huge, and without Dee Milliner in the secondary in 2013, life will not be easy on the Tide DBs. Also gone is three-year starter and All-SEC Safety Robert Lester. Despite that, Junior corner Deion Belue along with safeties Ha’Sean “HaHa” Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri are back for 2013 with a ton of experience among them.
As a JUCO transfer, Deion Belue started all 14 games last season at corner opposite All-American Dee Milliner. Because of the respect Milliner drew from opposing QBs, Belue was picked on a bit as a first-year starter in the SEC. After struggling at times, Belue came on as the season progressed and really shined on the biggest stage of the year in the BCS National Championship.
In 2012 Belue had 40 tackles, 6.5 TFL (tackles-for-loss), two INTs, seven PBU (pass break ups), one FF, and one FR (which he returned for a TD). Belue is a speedy corner that can keep up with the fastest receivers in the SEC, as well as being tough and a good enough tackler to stand up against the run. Belue will be called upon to be one of the leaders in the secondary this year.
HaHa Clinton-Dix started nine games in 2012 and led the team in interceptions with five, while also tallying 37 tackles, 0.5 TFL, four PBU and one FF. Clinton-Dix is already considered one of the best safeties in the country and is expected to be a high NFL Draft selection in 2014. He is excellent playing the center of the field, looking to make big plays, but is also good in coverage and can play the run, where he will likely be called upon more in 2013.
Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri spent the majority of 2012 sharing time both at the same position and on the field together. Sunseri is excellent against the run and coming in on safety blitzes. In 2012 he had 54 TKL, 6.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks, two INT, three PBU, two QBH (QB Hurries), and two FF. Sunseri’s biggest weakness is in coverage, an area in which he is still trying to improve. That weakness was never more obvious than the Texas A&M game, where he struggled mightily.
Helping out and joining the safety rotation in 2013 will be Sophomore Landon Collins. The big, strong consensus five-star safety coming out of high school spent the majority of 2012 playing on special teams, where he recorded 17 tackles and one blocked punt. In the Spring Collins started to make his move to more playing time on the defensive side of the ball with an extremely impressive spring and A-Day.
Collins is very strong and can play close to the line, but has ability to break on the ball and make plays in the passing game. Collins is a vicious hitter and along with Sunseri will help make the Alabama safeties likely one of the more feared groups in the country by opposing receivers.
Replacing All-American Dee Milliner will not be easy, but likely either Sophomore Geno Smith or Senior John Fulton or both sharing time together will replace him at the corner opposite Belue. Smith played in 13 games last season and actually started two, including the SEC Championship. Smith had nine tackles, 0.5 TFL, and two PBU and as the season went on he seemed to gain more and more confidence from the Alabama defensive staff.
Fulton played in 12 games with one start. He was slowed late in the season by an injury he suffered against Texas A&M, which resulted in off-season foot surgery. Fulton had 15 tackles and five PBU. His best game of the year may have come against A&M. For much of the first half, Alabama used three safeties against A&M’s spread (Lester, Sunseri, and Dix) but decided to move to add an extra corner instead going forward with Fulton being that man.
On A&M’s first three drives they scored TDs (all of those coming in the first quarter). When Fulton came in A&M scored just one TD for the remaining three quarters. If Fulton is able to come back 100 percent healthy in 2013 he will likely share time with Smith, and both players’ experience will be needed, as they will certainly be tested by opposing QB’s, especially early in the season.
Senior safety Nick Perry will likely enter the rotation again 2013 as a very experienced player. In 2013 Perry started four games and played in all 14 with 38 tackles, two TFL, one sack, two PBU, and one FR. Redshirt Freshman Bradley Sylve transitioned from wide receiver to ornerback in the Spring, and his speed could make for an interesting prospect if he continues to improve.
Freshman safety Jai Miller has one of the more interesting stories of any freshmen in the country, The 28-year-old got an early start on learning the Nick Saban defense in the Spring, and he could make a run at early playing time. He’s a big 6-foot-3, 213-pound DB that spent the last nearly decade playing Minor League Baseball. He was a big-time prospect coming out of high school, and maturity will likely not be something the coaching staff has to worry with this Freshman.
Having multiple players in the secondary for the Alabama defense isn’t just important, it’s a must as the multiple coverage’s and rotations they use require it. Whether it be three corners or three safeties, or even four corners, it’s very important to have a number of players ready to go, especially as more and more teams move to the wide-open spread offense.