It's never good when you lose a star, and Alabama lost one on Wednesday night.
Safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, a preseason first-team All-SEC member, was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. Head coach Nick Saban announced the news during his post-practice press conference (h/t AL.com).
Saban wouldn't elaborate on the exact reason why, but Aaron Suttles the Tuscaloosa News reported on Thursday that an Alabama strength and conditioning coach has been placed on leave for providing improper benefits to Clinton-Dix.
According to the report, Corey Harris—who has connections to representatives of a sports agent—provided a short-term loan of less than $500 to Clinton-Dix over the summer, a violation of NCAA Bylaw 188.8.131.52. Clinton-Dix provided bank records to the Alabama compliance department to prove that he re-paid Harris for the loan, according to the report.
Off-the-field, this is troubling for Alabama. Just last month, Yahoo Sports reported that former offensive tackle D.J. Fluker received impermissible benefits from several agents and financial advisers through former Tide defensive lineman Luther Davis.
On-the-field, it's not the end of the world, despite the fact that Clinton-Dix is second on the team with 24 tackles and has broken up two passes on the season.
Alabama's secondary has been hit-and-miss this year, and losing a starter the caliber of Clinton-Dix in the back end certainly is a devastating loss. But if there is such a thing as the right time to lose a starter, this is the right time for Alabama.
The Crimson Tide has Georgia State this week in Tuscaloosa, followed by a road trip to Kentucky and home tilts with Arkansas and Tennessee to close out the month. The average FBS total offense ranking of those four programs is 80.5.
Whether it's with reserve Landon Collins stepping into a starting role or nickelback Geno Smith making the move to free safety full-time, Alabama has time to develop Plans "B" and "C" should Clinton-Dix's suspension last for a prolonged period of time.
That gives Alabama four games and a bye week to get somebody ready to step in against the suddenly potent LSU offense, as the Tigers will roll into T-Town on Nov. 9.
So who are Clinton-Dix's possible replacements?
Coming out of high school in 2012, Collins was a 5-star prospect and rated as the No. 7 overall player in the country, according to 247Sports. He's a big hitter who has a nose for the football, notching 19 tackles this season—primarily as a reserve and on special teams—which is good for third on the team.
While he was a hot-shot recruit coming out of high school, Collins is best known for having one of the more memorable commitments in the history of recruiting. He committed to the Crimson Tide over in-state LSU while playing in the 2012 Under Armour All-American Game, which didn't please his mother.
Smith was suspended for the season-opener against Virginia Tech and hasn't been able to make much of an impact so far this season, posting only one tackle. He was in a battle to win the No. 2 cornerback spot this offseason, but at 6'0", 186 pounds, he's a little undersized for a safety.
Will Ha Ha Clinton-Dix play again this season for Alabama?
But Smith has the talent, and these next four games will provide valuable experience for the sophomore from Atlanta in case he needs to play a prominent role in the 2013 version of the "Game of the Century."
Clinton-Dix is a ball hawk, and he is one of those players who opposing quarterbacks have to recognize prior to the snap. While a mid-year suspension is never ideal, Alabama has the luxury of time considering how its schedule is set up.
Expect some trial and error this week against Georgia State in the back end of the Crimson Tide defense. Alabama has been in "next man up" mode for several years now, and while the team is not used to filling holes mid-season, it's a hurdle that this Crimson Tide team can overcome.