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Alabama Football: Breaking Down Bama's Secondary Depth

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Alabama Football: Breaking Down Bama's Secondary Depth
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Cornerback DeMarcus Milliner.

As the season opener against Michigan looms closer, the Crimson Tide's depth chart is taking shape and the biggest question is the secondary.

Just as in 2010, there are a lot of promising yet unproven faces lining the Tide's defensive back roster.

This is a look at the players in the secondary that will play most of the downs and where they will play in each package.

Alabama runs a base 3-4 defense but the majority of the defensive downs see five or six defensive backs on the field.

The term "starter" is a loose one in a system like Alabama's. For the sake of simplicity, each player listed could be considered to be a starter depending on the package the defense is in.

With the exception of goal line scenarios with jumbo sets and other situations, defensive backs will play in three different packages: Four, five, or six defensive backs.

Here is a look at the eight players who will likely see the most snaps, followed by where they will play in each package.

Key losses: CB Travell Dixon (left team, personal reasons), S Jarrick Williams (knee, out for season).

Freshmen in the mix: CB Geno Smith, S Landon Collins, S/WR Eddie Williams.

 

Starters

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
Robert Lester (37).

S Robert Lester, 6'2", 210 lbs.

Lester is the Tide's most experienced safety and the most dangerous in coverage. With 10 career interceptions with two seasons as a starter, it's safe to call Lester a ball hawk. He also has a slew of near-picks as well.

The only weak part of Lester's game is his ability (or lack of willingness) to play in the box against the run. However, as a coverage safety, he is the cream of the crop in the SEC.

S Vinnie Sunseri, 6'0", 215 lbs.

Sunseri has been proving critics wrong ever since he was labeled as a 3-star prep prospect linebacker. He's now playing like a 5-star safety and has proven himself to be just as dangerous as any safety on the team.

He can play in coverage but his specialty is playing in the box against the run, as well as making plays behind the line of scrimmage.

Though Sunseri is not quite Mark Barron (and the comparison wouldn't be fair at this point), he plays with the same type of brutality in close quarters. In that aspect, he is more like Barron than any other safety at the moment.

S Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, 6'1", 209 lbs.

If Sunseri is like Barron near the line of scrimmage, then Clinton-Dix is like Barron in the deep backfield. He is excellent in coverage and will be used often in nickel and dime packages.

Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE
Vinnie Sunseri nails LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson on a safety blitz, January 9, 2012.

The race to be the "starter" between Clinton-Dix and Sunseri has been a heated debate, but both are going to see equal playing time and will likely be on the field together more often than not.

S Nick Perry, 6'1", 208 lbs.

Jarrick Williams' season-ending injury has provided a golden opportunity for junior Nick Perry to finally get significant playing time.

Perry will essentially be the fourth string safety but that is a position that sees a lot of playing time in Alabama's often overloaded defensive backfield.

Perry's talent and potential was displayed during his true freshman year; he played in six games.

CB DeMarcus Milliner, 6'1", 199 lbs.

Milliner is both the Tide's most talented and experienced cornerback and he just might be the best overall corner the Tide has had under Nick Saban, including Kareem Jackson, Javier Arenas, and Dre Kirkpatrick.

He can play in coverage like a true shutdown corner, has the hands to come up with a big play and can land brutal hits against the run.

In dime and nickel packages, he often moves towards the middle and plays like an extra safety as he is built like one to begin with.

CB Deion Belue, 5'11", 179 lbs.

Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE
DeMarcus Milliner brings down Auburn WR Quan Bray.

After a spectacular spring, Belue became the clear front-runner to start opposite of Milliner by out-shining fellow junior college transfer Travell Dixon (no longer with team).

Belue is a speedy corner that uses his agility to make up for his lack of size and stick with targets.

He will likely play on the outside regardless of which package the defense is in. Don't be surprised to see him line up against teams top receivers, freeing up Milliner to provide more support against the run.

CB John Fulton, 6'0", 187 lbs.

Fulton has been a solid backup for the Tide since his true freshman year in 2010 and has seen a lot of playing time. He will have a greatly expanded role in the Tide's reloading secondary this year.

He has great size for the position and an abundance of experience in dime and nickel packages where he will be the first corner off the bench.

CB Bradley Sylve, 5'11", 178 lbs.

Sylve and Belue are the spitting images of one another in both size and ability, especially in terms of speed. Sylve is quickly becoming recognized as one of the fastest players on the team.

Belue has the leg up on Sylve after his two years in the junior college ranks.

The most amazing part about Sylve's career thus far is how quickly he has adjusted to his new role after switching from wide receiver shortly after his arrival in 2011.

Who will have the bigger impact?

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He has gone from undergoing a radical position change to becoming a primary backup who will push for a starter role in 2013.

 

Packages

Note: Which side of the field players will line up on will vary greatly.

Base 3-4

  Lester    
    Sunseri/Clinton-Dix  
       
Milliner     Belue

Nickel, five defensive backs

    Lester   Clinton-Dix  
           
  Sunseri        
Milliner     (linebacker)   Belue

Dime, six defensive backs

 
Lester
Clinton-Dix    
             
  Milliner/Perry       Sunseri  
Fulton/Sylve     (linebacker)     Belue
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