Case satisfied with starting safeties

After more than 31 rewarding but tough years in coaching, Ron Case had earned the vacation. And when North Carolina made the decision to let his good friend and head coach Carl Torbush go last season, Case was frankly looking forward to some time off. But quickly after Dennis Franchione took over at Alabama, he hired Torbush to revive an underachieving Bama defense. And soon he was calling on Case as well. "I told my wife, ‘I can't turn this one down,'" Case related. "'I've got to go.'"

"Frankly, it's an honor for me to end my coaching career here," Case continued. "I was retiring. But I couldn't turn this one down--not The University of Alabama and the chance to coach again with Coach Torbush. I didn't know Coach Fran personally, but I knew about him. I knew he had been very successful, and I wanted to be a part of that."

During a coaching career at multiple schools, including stints at Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and North Carolina, Case has built a reputation for developing solid secondaries. And at Alabama he'll be specifically responsible for the Tide safeties. "I need a player that can come in and play either side, strong or free," Case said. "I need them to be interchangeable. With spring drills over, that's the next step for me, to get guys that can go play strong--or get where the strong safeties can play free."

After bouncing around from tailback to wide receiver to cornerback to special teams, senior speedster Shontua Ray finally appears to have found his spot at strong safety.

Spring practice was a time for installing schemes and evaluating talent. And Case is reasonably confident about where his players are now. "I really feel good about where we are," Case related. "We put a lot (of the defense) in during spring. We threw a lot at them, and they handled it pretty well. We had only 15 days, but we threw a lot of coverages at them. They learned their responsibilities and alignments well. I'm pleased with them at this point in time."

"I think we've got about four guys that can fit in there and that we can win games with," Case continued. "They came a long way during the spring and did a good job. The (starters) are doing a good job, and that includes (backups) Charles Jones and Waine Bacon. There are about four of them that we feel we can plug into ballgames and win games with."

Obviously things can change during fall two-a-days, but at this point seniors Reggie Myles and Shontua Ray are listed first string. "Shontua has come a long way," Case said. "If he can keep his weight down, then he's got a chance to help us in coverage. No question he's going to be a good run support player."

Arriving at Alabama as one of the top tailback prospects in the South, Ray never found a niche on offense. But after playing a vital role on special teams the last two years, the Montevallo native seems to have settled in at strong safety. "He had a lot of adjusting to do, coming from a background as a former running back," Case explained. "As a DB, you're always backing up, but as a running back you're always going forward. So he's had to relearn movement, and he's still working on that."

Ray (nicknamed ‘Tu' by his teammates) played in every game last season, starring as the Tide's ‘hit man' on kick coverages. He totaled 13 tackles on the year with a forced fumble and a blocked punt versus Mississippi State. Ray also saw spot duty as a return man, totaling 134 yards on seven kickoff returns and one punt return for 41 yards. He also competed for the Bama track team, earning a 10.54 mark in the 100 meters.

Though only 5-10 or so, Ray is a powerful athlete who isn't afraid of contact. But he'll have to be careful not to let bulk affect his speed. "The biggest battle that Shontua is going to have to win is weight," Case related. "He can't afford to get up to 223--not back in the secondary. He needs to stay around 210 or less. That's going to be his battle.

Shown conferring with Coach Fran at the senior football camp held earlier in the summer, Ron Case has been given the responsibility to help rebuild a once-proud Alabama secondary.

"He's really naturally strong. He's got great strength, and he's got that quick burst straight ahead. He just needs to work on his flexibility and work on holding his weight down, then he'll get better and better."

With only one final year of eligibility left, the Tide coaches have good reason to be frustrated at how Ray was used his first season on campus. "I wish he had another year," Case admitted. "This is my first year and his last. It's a shame that he only played four plays his first year. That's just sad. He should be around here for another year, but that's the way the rules are. But I'm happy with Shontua, and I think he's happy with the position."

Next to Ray at the free safety position, fellow senior Reggie Myles is one of the more gifted athletes on the squad. "Reggie has still got that good talent," Case said. "Of course, he's being pushed by the guy behind him (Charles Jones), but competition is always better. It always helps when you've got somebody to push you."

Adjusting to the new coaching staff and their different expectations was a challenge for Myles, but the native of Pascagoula, Mississippi seems to be doing well now. "Reggie is a good player, and he's got a chance to really help us," Case said. "He needs to stay focused on our defense, but I think he'll give us a lot of quality football. And he should end up starting."

Myles started three games last year before yielding the No. 1 spot to Tony Dixon (now of the Dallas Cowboys), but Myles saw action in every contest. He finished with 38 tackles; seven pass breakups with two interceptions for 127 return yards and a touchdown. His best game was versus UCLA, as Myles totaled nine tackles and returned an interception 91 yards for a touchdown.

As any visitor to a Tide practice can attest, Myles is a high-strung athlete who often wears his emotions on his sleeve. But the low-key, veteran Coach Case could very well be just what Myles needs to fulfill his athletic potential. "I'm an even-tempered guy, and Reggie needs to be more like me," Case acknowledged. "That's part of what I've tried to get across to him. In the secondary you can't be too high or too low. Sometimes they throw one over your head, and if that happens then I expect you to come back and compete the next play. You can't let that affect you.

Though he lost his starting job last season to Tony Dixon (now playing for the Dallas Cowboys), Reggie Myles is once again listed No. 1 at free safety for the Tide.

"If you're a guy that gets too high or too low and you play up and down, then we don't want that. We want a guy that's even-keeled--even if something bad happens. The next play is the most important play. You can't let past things affect the next play."

When Myles first arrived on campus, he was quickly thrown into the fray as a true freshman at cornerback. But years of maturing and hours in the weight room have built him into a better all-around player. "Reggie is a good run support player," Case said. "He can run. He's got all the tools. He just needs to work to stay focused on football."

Besides being both senior safety starters for the Tide, Ray and Myles have other things in common. Each was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school. Myles ended up signing with Alabama after a fierce recruiting battle four years ago. But on the other hand, Ray grew up a Tide fan and his decision was relatively easy.

"In this state, there are a lot of kids that want to come here--a lot of them," Case agreed. "Some of your better players are going to come here regardless of who's here and who's coaching. That's not always been the case at other places I've been. I was at Vanderbilt, and kids just don't grow up wanting to go to Vanderbilt. There's no football tradition there.

"It's an easier sell here because of the tradition and the people. Alabama is a special place. I'm honored just to be here."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Coach Case also provided a breakdown of the backups at the two safety positions. Look for that story next week.

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