Bama still needs help at safety

With kickoff still a month away, no one--not even the head coaches--knows precisely what to expect from the various teams. But even casual Tide fans understand that the secondary remains an area of concern for Alabama. At safety, seniors Shontua Ray and Reggie Myles emerged from spring listed No. 1, but no one's job should be considered safe. "We're going to play the best player," said Head Coach Dennis Franchione. "If that's a freshman or even an eighth grader, they'll play."

With both Tony Dixon and Marcus Spencer--last year's top players now toiling in respective NFL camps--departed, the Tide is left with sometime-starter Myles at free safety and never-was starter Ray beside him at ‘strong.' As documented in an earlier article (Case satisfied with starting safeties), both athletes certainly have talent.

Now in his third year on campus, Charles Jones is pushing for playing time at free safety.

But it's hardly a secret that the Bama coaches are still looking for help. "You need about six or seven guys at safety that you can plug in," explained Safeties Coach Ron Case. "That's always key. An injury can take a guy down quickly. Guys can drop at the snap of a finger, so you've got to have guys ready to plug in. You've got to have at least a two-deep ready ALL the time. We've only got four I'm confident of right now, and we need more than that here."

The other two players Case is speaking of are walk-on Waine Bacon and sophomore Charles Jones. "If Reggie plays on some special teams (now thought likely) and he gets tired, then we can plug in Charley Jones with no problem," Case said. "Charley is young, but he's going to be a real good player.

"Charles Jones is really making it in the weight room. When I first came here and looked on the weight chart, he weighed 164 pounds. I couldn't believe that. But during spring he weighed about 183 or 184. He gained just that much in a short time through the strength program. He's gotten a lot stronger, and he's starting to be a real good football player now.

One of many former prep quarterbacks that get moved to the secondary in college, Jones has taken two years to mature and develop in the system. And Tide fans hope he's now ready to contribute. "He's very smart," Case said. "He's got football sense. I expect him to be a real good football player the rest of the time he's here."

Coach Case works with Bacon (#24) and Jones (#20) last spring. The two players head into fall drills listed second string at strong and free safety respectively.

Jones is currently playing behind Myles at the ‘free' safety spot with Waine Bacon just slightly behind Ray at ‘strong.' The walk-on athlete from Maryland found respect (and attention) hard to come by his first two years on campus, but Bacon could well have been the surprise of spring. "Waine Bacon is absolutely legitimate," Case stated. "We can't go out and sign another one like Waine. We'd have to get (that player) in and train him, but Waine is ready now."

With one of the top vertical jumps on the squad and having participated in last spring's Night of Champions on the squat, Bacon is one of the top athletes on the squad. And the walk-on has accomplished his goal of impressing the new staff. "Waine is one snap away from starting," Case said. "If Shontua gets tired or gets run down, then we've got to have somebody to put in, and that would be Waine Bacon. And he's pushing Shontua to start. We've got a good competition going, which is what you've got to have at safety.

"Nobody needs to be comfortable. And nobody's got it made, because we've got players behind the starters that can get the job done. And that's exactly the way I want it."

Along with a young offensive line, Franchione has consistently listed the secondary as an area of concern. But he was encouraged by what he saw in the spring. "We've got talent there, but it's inexperienced," Franchione said. "The secondary actually played with more experience than we anticipated. They've got some athleticism."

Along with Juke King, both Roman Harper and Charlie Peprah (pictured here at last spring's A-Day game) should get an early look in the Tide secondary.

"We only had 15 days (of practice) in the spring," Case added. "But we expect them to recall all of it (next week). We cataloged the film, and they've been studying during the summer. When fall two-a-days start, we'll have 29 days. We'll pick up right back in the groove."

Coaches are normally very reluctant to talk about possible contributions from true freshmen, reasoning that a team counting on young, immature talent is almost always asking for trouble. But at Media Days this week Franchione listed both Roman Harper (a former prep quarterback slated for the Tide secondary) and Charlie Peprah (one of the top athletes among the incoming freshmen) as individuals that had a chance to play early on. "You don't go into a season counting on freshmen to begin ready to play," Franchione said. "But we've got some guys that maybe can contribute. We won't push them. We'll let them come along at their own pace."

Harper and Peprah are also very mature and intelligent, increasing their chances to contribute. And Theodore's ‘Juke' King will also likely get an early look this fall. "We've got those four guys (Myles, Ray, Jones and Bacon)," Case said. "But hopefully the freshmen can come in and give us some depth. We still need some more guys. You always want to be training the guys coming up."

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