TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The loudest cheer during the Alabama defense's starting lineup video doesn't come for C.J. Mosley—the senior linebacker, captain and player whom coach Nick Saban calls the "quarterback" of his defense.
No, the crowd roars the loudest for junior safety Vinnie Sunseri. He is the spark plug of Alabama's defense, always flying around, making plays and coming up in the clutch time after time.
Sunseri's injury during Alabama's 52-0 romp of Arkansas on Saturday night was the lone dark spot of the game.
Saban didn't offer a definitive answer on Sunseri's status. He said Sunseri suffered a knee injury and will undergo an MRI on Sunday, but that "it could be serious."
Still, the players didn't seem optimistic about his diagnosis.
"Vinnie means a lot. It’ll definitely be a loss for us," quarterback AJ McCarron said. "But at the same time, he’ll be able to be there and still talk to guys. He does a lot for us."
In Sunseri's place, Landon Collins slid over to strong safety, his natural position, while HaHa Clinton-Dix came in to play free safety. Jarrick Williams continued to play the "Star" position, and cornerback Geno Smith took Collins' place at "Money."
Losing Sunseri would be a big blow for the Alabama defense from a psyche standpoint. The Crimson Tide have the athletes to replace his on-field production. But he was such a lightning rod, always around the ball at the right time.
Against Virginia Tech, he jumped in front of a Logan Thomas pass and darted 38 yards for the touchdown. Two weeks later against Texas A&M, he intercepted Johnny Manziel, taking the pass 73 yards to the house and juking Johnny Football on the way to the end zone.
Alabama will miss those kinds of plays in his absence.
"For leadership, he’s still going to be there," Mosley said. "If he’s playing or not, he’s going to be on the sideline helping the younger guys out. The younger guys will have to step up and get adjusted to it. When HaHa went out, young guys come in. It’ll be no different. It can’t be an excuse not to be a great defense."
Like Mosley said, Sunseri will still be around to coach the younger defensive backs and help them out.
When Clinton-Dix was suspended three weeks ago for violation of team rules, Sunseri helped Collins adjust to playing free safety. Collins hadn't played the position before.
"Great leader," sophomore safety Collins said. "He’s helped me out as free safety, making calls and getting settled down. He’s going to be missed on this defense."
After the Colorado State game, Sunseri was one of the leaders who addressed the team in the locker room about battling complacency, launching Alabama into its dominant run since that game.
Alabama has the athletes to not miss a beat skill-wise in the secondary. But losing Sunseri would mean losing an on-field leader, a timely playmaker and a crowd favorite.