Alabama Football: Early Preview of the 2012 Safeties
Alabama's safety corps will do some shuffling in the offseason. Mark Barron will exhaust his eligibility and move on to the NFL. The wealth of available talent will soften the loss of Barron and make for a stout secondary.
After graduation and the NFL Draft, the Tide may be looking to lose only one safety, that being Barron.
Here is a preview of the key safeties returning and joining in 2012, their future class and what their roles may be.
Starter: Robert Lester, 6'2", 210 Lbs., Senior
Lester has been an integral part of the Tide's secondary for two full seasons. His productivity in the turnover department dropped off after making waves in 2010 as a true ball hawk, but he was still important.
He's had a great career, relatively free from injury, and that could take him to the NFL right now. I believe that he should go, but I simultaneously think he will stay at 'Bama.
The Tide have a good shot at something big in 2012, especially with the offense returning so many key players, such as Barrett Jones and A.J. McCarron—as well as his future target, receiver Duron Carter. They also have a fearsome running back army, despite losing Trent Richardson.
The second or third round in the draft would be a respectable place to wind up, but if Lester were to add "field general" to his resume he would gain first-round potential.
With the departure of Mark Barron it will fall to Lester to become the leader.
Unless Alabama completely blows LSU out of the water and Robert Lester makes a slew of key plays, he will return to the Capstone.
Starter: Vinnie Sunseri, 6'1", 217 Lbs., Sophomore
Vinnie Sunseri didn't have the high-caliber star rating that a few other Alabama safeties had, but there's a good reason for that.
Sunseri played high school ball in Tuscaloosa as a linebacker and under his father, Tide linebacker coach Sal Sunseri, he became the Tuscaloosa Terror.
Back when the star ratings were being handed out Vinnie Sunseri barely stood at 6' with cleats on. The scouting agencies couldn't justify anything higher than a three-star rating for a 5'11", 190-something-pound linebacker.
Sunseri's senior high school stats: 109 tackles, 15 for loss, five interceptions, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries. That looks like four-star talent to me.
Sunseri is now a Tide safety, and has made a big name for himself all season long.
When Mark Barron missed most of the Iron Bowl due to injury and backup Will Lowery was out with a torn ACL, Nick Saban turned to Vinnie Sunseri. He finished the game with four solo tackles, six total, more than Robert Lester.
He has the ideal physical tools (he's the heaviest safety on the roster, other than Barron) to be a top-notch safety, but it is his football smarts that will make him the starter.
Backup: Will Lowery, 5'9", 180 Lbs., Senior
Here is a picture of Will Lowery about to attempt a tackle on Cam Newton in the 2010 Iron Bowl.
A split-second after the photo was snapped, Cam Newton was on the ground with Lowery firmly wrapped around his ankles. Those that remember this play know that Newton had a lot of green in front of him.
Lowery will enter 2012 as one of the most experienced safeties on the roster. His heart is in it, but his physical limitations will keep him from being an every-down player.
He started in lieu of the injured Mark Barron in the 2011 Capital One Bowl, and played a big part in keeping the Michigan State Spartans scoreless for most of the game.
In 2012 Lowery will continue his role as a third safety, a role that sees a lot of playing time in Kirby Smart's defensive schemes.
Most think of Alabama's defense as a 3-4 setup, but in reality they use the 3-3-5 quite a bit, which allowed Lowery to rack up 53 tackles in the past two years.
If he recovers will from his torn ACL he will, once again, be an integral part of the Tide defense.
Backup: Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, 6'1", 204 Lbs., Sophomore
Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix was a coveted safety coming out of high school having earned a five-star rating as the No. 1 safety in his class.
He did not perform as well as his fellow freshman, Vinnie Sunseri, which was likely due to raw talent (Clinton-Dix) versus ability to quickly learn the system (Sunseri).
Come 2012, both will likely have been fully assimilated into Saban's process and could potentially make Clinton-Dix the second starting safety over Sunseri.
But the safety squad looks good with or without Clinton-Dix. It is the cornerback crew that will be reeling from losses. They will be losing Dre Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie, and Phelon Jones, among others.
Junior college transfer Travell Dixon may step up and immediately contribute at cornerback, but that is just a possibility right now.
Clinton-Dix's raw talent, natural ability and newly-acquired knowledge of the system could make him an outstanding cornerback, and I expect him to make the position switch out of necessity.
If he does not make the change he will be equally competitive with Vinnie Sunseri.
If Robert Lester does make the jump to the NFL, then Clinton-Dix could be a shoe-in as a starter.
Backup: Eddie Williams, 6'4", 205 Lbs., Freshman
Eddie Williams is one of the biggest fish Nick Saban and Co. have landed in this year's recruiting class. Rivals has him as a five-star safety, and safety is what he is most likely to play at Alabama.
He could also play receiver, so if Duron Carter doesn't live up to his potential then Eddie Williams could step in and be that big-target receiver A.J. McCarron was lacking in 2011.
He likely won't become a starter in his first year as he must learn the system first. A true freshman defensive back in a complicated scheme could be disastrous, which was experienced by DeMarcus Milliner in 2010.
However, if Robert Lester leaves early then Williams will see a lot of playing time, and is guaranteed to see a lot of action on special teams, regardless.
Backup: Nick Perry, 6'1", 205 Lbs., Junior
Nick Perry, a former four-star safety recruit, hasn't quite lived up to his hype, as displayed by Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri getting a lot more playing time and making better use of their time on special teams. Perry has only two tackles for the year.
Nick Perry may just be a late bloomer. If he has the X's and O's figured out he could make a serious push to become the starter.
He's not a ball hawk, but he is excellent at stopping the run. This could make him a dangerous strong safety, but the difference between a strong and free safety in Nick Saban's system is arcane.
Mark Barron was listed as a strong safety for over two years, but Saban said Barron was always a free safety, quite a surprise to all who heard it.
Perry will face fierce competition from younger guys for the starting position, and he will be a junior in 2012. He could be the starter at almost any school in the nation, but Alabama isn't just any school.
Backup: Jarrick Williams, 6'1", 210 Lbs., Junior
Jarrick Williams is in the same position as Nick Perry. The competition from younger players is creating a lot of questions about his career.
He's a fantastic player, but if he were just a little larger he would make a better linebacker.
Scout.com listed his "area's for improvement" as coverage awareness and backpedal quickness, two deadly flaws for a defensive back in Nick Saban's complicated schemes, especially coverage awareness.
Williams is yet another outstanding player buried in the Tide's depth chart. It's a "problem" fairly unique to Alabama. It's great to be so deep in talent, but not so great for some of the players, as only 11 guys can be on the field at a time.