Tide Has Numbers At Safety Spots

It is not very often one sees an All-Southeastern Conference football team with one squad providing the selections at both safety and strong safety positions, but that has been the case with pre-season selections this year.

Alabama returns Mark Barron (6-2, 210), who was first team All-America last year as a junior, and Robert Lester (6-2, 206), a second team All-America in 2010 as a sophomore, and that's a good way to start.

Once upon a time the safety was the last line of defense, a man often described as patrolling center field, helping out on pass coverage or making the touchdown-saving tackle. The only teams that had a safety as among the top tacklers was a bad defensive team.

Not any more. Alabama safeties are aggressive. Last year Barron was Bama's leading tackler with 54 primary stops and 21 assists. He had three tackles for loss and two sacks and also two quarterback hurries. In pass defense he had three interceptions and broke up six passes. A year earlier as a sophomore he led the SEC and was eighth in the nation with seven interceptions.

Lester led the SEC in interceptions last year with eight, which was second best in the nation. He was also active on the tackle front with 29 primary stops and 23 assists, tied for sixth best on the team.

Alabama's defense is complicated, often with a nickel back, sometimes with six in the secondary, so the once-familiar lineup of a safety against the strong side of the offense (strong safety) and one against the weak side (safety or free safety or week safety)is sometimes difficult to discern. It is also notable that Bama safeties work both positions so they can be familiar with both.

In addition to actual play, a safety is responsible for helping make defensive calls to fellow secondary players.

Last year Bama lost Barron in the second half of the Auburn game with a torn pectoral muscle, which kept him out of Alabama's Capital One Bowl game. Will Lowery, a 5-10, 188-pound walk-on who will be a junior this year, stepped in and played well. Lowery had been a regular back-up throughout the season.

Jarrick Williams (6--1, 203) and Nick Perry (6-1, 193) have seen limited playing time in the secondary and have also played on special teams as they go into their sophomore seasons. Williams seemed destined for much playing time as a true freshman before suffering a shoulder injury. He was able to return late in the year.

Another sophomore, Kendall Kelly (6-3, 214), came to Alabama as a wide receiver and is expected to complete the transition to safety this season, although he missed spring work with injury.

Also missing spring work with injury was junior Wesley Neighbors (6-1, 205) of the famous Tide family.

An impressive newcomer to the Tide secondary in the spring is Vinnie Sunseri (6-0, 205), a true freshman who entered The University in January. A high school linebacker and the son of Bama Linebackers Coach Sal Sunseri, Vinnie is very athletic.

It is unfortunate that Robby Green seems unlikely to be a part of Alabama in his final season, but more unfortunate for Green, probably, than for the Tide. Green missed all of the 2010 season sitting out an NCAA suspension, then was suspended for the spring by Alabama Coach Nick Saban. Unconfirmed – though plausible – reports this summer have said that Green will not be back with Bama this year.

This is one in a series of stories examining the 2011 Crimson Tide position-by-position.

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