The hits just keep on coming

Nick Saban said one of the most important goals to achieve in fall camp is building depth in the secondary after losing three staters from last year's unit. But Alabama lost two more defensive backs during camp and Saban is now calling on youngsters to develop quickly to provide more depth.

Alabama's defensive backs are the lucky ones. They get to spend practice everyday under the watchful eye of Nick Saban.

Not that it isn't always beneficial for the secondary to get Saban's full attention, but this year it's even more critical as that's the unit with the most uncertainty surrounding it.

"How quickly those guys develop is going to be really important to how successful we are on defense," Saban said.

No pressure.

The Crimson Tide lost three starters from last year's secondary, including a pair of first round NFL draft picks in Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick. That unit was ranked No. 1 in passing defense and allowed opponents just 111.5 yards in the air per game.

Not only did Alabama lose starters, but the unit took a hit during camp when promising JUCO transfer, cornerback Travell Dixon, decided to leave the program for "personal reasons." Then a few days later, junior safety Jarrick Williams tore his ACL and was declared out for the season.

That left an already unproven secondary even more questionable.

There are players like Robert Lester, Vinnie Sunseri and Dee Milliner, who have experience and are the leaders of the group. And there is talent, like HaHa Clinton-Dix, Landon Collins and Deion Belue, but those guys have yet to nail Saban's system down.

"We've got a ways to go, that's all I can tell you," Saban said. "There are guys that have some good promise and some guys that have played really good football for us here. They're trying to provide some of the leadership. We need to develop some other players. To me, that's a challenge for us right now to see how rapidly we can get some of those young guys to develop with the consistency."

Williams' injury really hurt the depth. He would have been in the rotation and probably would have played what Saban calls the "money" position, a term coined by Bill Belichick, which is essentially the sixth defensive back that takes the place of the weak side linebacker in Alabama's dime defense.

With his injury, Saban has moved Eddie Williams, who was working with the wide receivers the first week of fall camp, to safety. The coach is also looking at junior Nick Perry, redshirt freshman Bradley Sylve and true freshmen Collins and Geno Smith to step up quickly because the Tide will need them, especially in the nickel and dime packages.

"We're going to need those young players to come along and play because that's the depth at that position," Saban said. "When we play five and six defensive backs, they need to understand what to do to go out there and play and do the things they need to do. They'll improve. We've had to play freshmen around here before and I think we have some really good freshmen in this class. It depends on how quickly they develop."

Clinton-Dix, who goes by "HaHa" because his grandmother started calling him that as a kid and it stuck—"I love it. Coach loves it. Everyone loves it, so HaHa. That's what I go with," he said—played last year as a true freshman and understands how difficult it is for youngsters to pick up Saban's scheme.

"It's a lot to learm," he said. "Just have to study your playbook, get help from your teammates and Coach Saban is there to help you as well. When he's on you pretty hard, you better pick it up quick."

Despite concern at the position, at least Saban is the one on them day in and day out, instructing them how things are supposed to be done.

Clinton-Dix said when he first came to Alabama he had no idea he'd get to work so closely with Saban being a defensive back. He cherishes the opportunity.

"To be honest, it's a blessing to be with them," he said. "Just being out there with him and having him coach me up, it's a very good thing."

Saban said he gets a lot out of working with that unit, too.

"If you ask [the DBs what they get out of me working with them], I'm sure they'd say nothing, a pain in the rear end," Saban said. "I enjoy doing it. Hopefully I'll help somebody somewhere along the way through the years play a little better, develop a little better or a little faster, or play longer in the NFL or whatever. I enjoy doing it."

Saban does, of course, spend time with the other positions.

"But I think the other players on the team respect the fact that if you can make a contribution to a part of the team and you're willing to do it and it's going to help others have a chance to be successful, I think they understand that," he said.

As previously stated, how quickly the secondary develops will be the key to Alabama's success defensively. At least they have Saban as their teacher.


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