Alabama Safeties Work Through Injury

To say that Alabama's safety corps took a hit even before the start of spring practice would be an understatement. Bama returns the top two interception men of the past two seasons at safety, but depth has been affected to some degree by injury.

Last year Robert Lester led the Southeastern Conference and was second in the nation with eight interceptions for Alabama. The year before Mark Barron had been number one in the SEC and eighth in the nation with seven interceptions. Over the past two years Barron has been All-SEC and All-America and Lester has been second team All-America.

So far, so good. But...

Barron, an upcoming senior and a captain of last year's team, is wearing a black jersey this spring, which indicates he does not get contact work. That's because he had surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle following the final regular season game of the year in Bama's 10-3 season.

Wesley Neighbors, a junior, and Kendall Kelly, a sophomore, are not participating at all because of injuries suffered in the off-season.

Senior Robby Green has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules after having missed all last season with an NCAA suspension.

Sophomores Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams have been in black shirts.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban made it clear that just because a player is in a black shirt doesn't mean that he isn't practicing.

"They don't have any time off the field," Saban said. "They take every rep. That black shirt just means you don't hit anybody; it doesn't mean you don't take the rep. They do everything but thud them when they get to them. They aren't missing anything but that.

"We'll scrimmage those guys, too. Kareem Jackson went a whole spring around here with a black shirt on with a broken wrist or whatever he had and took every rep and every play in scrimmage in every practice. He just didn't tackle the guy if the guy got to him.

"They are all safeties. Hopefully if we have a decent defense they shouldn't have to make all that many tackles."

That last part was facetious. Alabama safeties are a big part of the run defense. Last year Barron led Bama in tackles with 75 (54 primary) and Lester was sixth with 52 (29 primary).

Lester echoed his head coach regarding participation by the safeties. "I really don't see a difference," said the 6-2, 210-pound junior from Foley. "They're doing what they have to do. They're still out there. They haven't gotten injured to the point where they couldn't go out and practice. They're still out there making the calls, getting in position. The only thing they're not doing is really thudding a guy. They can't because they're hurt. They're still doing what they need to do being out there and making calls and stuff."

Specifically, Lester said that Barron "looks good. He's getting more mobile with it. I'm he'll be ready for the fall."

In addition to Lester, Tide safeties who are full speed are junior Will Lowery, who took over for Barron in the Capital One Bowl, and true freshman Vinnie Sunseri, who came in as a linebacker but is getting work at safety.

The safeties are only part of the secondary. Alabama also returns starting cornerbacks Dre Kickpatrick and Demarcus Milliner and experienced hands Phelon Jones, Dequan Menzie, and John Fulton at cornerback.

Lester said his goal is to "try to match" his interceptions performance this year. He expects the secondary being so much more experienced than a year ago (when Barron was the only returning starter) will be improved.

He thinks that his ability to communicate in the secondary is an area in which he has made improvement.

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