You've got to be able to cover

This will be Chris Ball's first season at The Capstone, but the veteran secondary coach has been at this for a while. After 16 years of coaching defensive backs he knows what he's looking for in an athlete.

First of all a stable of talented players is necessary. As the saying goes, "iron sharpens iron," and competition is vital. "Usually we'll sign three to four defensive backs a year," Ball said. "That keeps you from having to go to junior college to get players."

No surprise to anyone, genuine "cover corners" are what every coach looks for. Athletes able to lock down on their man in single coverage, taking him out of the play, are worth their weight in gold.

Shown intercepting the pass versus Georgia, Charlie Peprah is one reason Ball believes the Tide can feature plenty of man-to-man defense. (Associated Press)

"I like man-to-man defense," Ball said. "And I like to play it as much as we can. It also shows you have better athletes. Our base scheme for the corners is pretty much man-to-man."

With the emphasis on passing today, the safeties must be able to cover as well. The standard line about placing your top two cover men at cornerback and numbers three and four at safety isn't far from the truth.

Certainly Alabama's two starting safeties fit that mold. "If you look at Charles Jones and Roman Harper, there is not much difference between the two," Ball explained. "They both can cover. They've both got similar body types, and they're similar athletes."

Interestingly, both Jones and Harper were option quarterbacks in high school.

Twenty (or even 10) years ago, there was usually a clear difference between the two safeties. Aptly named, the "strong safety" often resembled a slender linebacker and had primary responsibility to help versus the run. On the other hand the "free safety" was the centerfielder of the secondary, working mainly against the pass.

But fans shouldn't expect to see much, if any, difference in how Jones and Harper are utilized. Ball commented, "The last couple of years I've always had one guy play up and one guy back to defend the middle in pass defense. That was because I had guys that were better at one or the other.

"(At Alabama) our defense is flexible enough where we can do that if needed, but in the spring we taught where there was no difference between the strong and free safety."

A veteran of 16 years coaching, Chris Ball will direct Alabama's secondary.

Ball believes in setting goals for his players. He wants the unit to go after Alabama's season interception mark of 21, and he expects the Tide's pass-stop unit to be decidedly stingy. "We go into every game with the goal of allowing just 4.0 yards per attempt," he said.

Generally it's the less talented teams that are forced to take chances. As the old saying goes, "live by the blitz, die by the blitz."

Ball explained, "We won't be blitzing all the time. There is more of a chance to give up a big play. If you blitz all the time the odds are against you. If you can put your opponent in a third-and-long situation and then make them throw it underneath and make the tackle. That's a safer way to do it. I'm excited that we have the talent so we won't be forced to blitz too much--not to have to take chances."

Ball was happy with what he saw during fall drills. His challenge to his players was to continue to work hard all the way to the start of fall camp. "We're at that point now," he said. "You get to a point in coaching kids where it's up to them. They have to push through. If they continue to push themselves in these last few weeks and into fall camp, then we've got a chance to be really good."

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