Tide's Safety Spot Has Depth Issue
Following the game, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, "Vinnie Sunseri has a knee injury and he'll get an MRI [Sunday]. We'll see what the verdict is, but it could be serious." The presumption is that Sunseri will have to have surgery and will miss the remainder of the season.
Losing Sunseri is not just losing an outstanding player. The son of Coach Sal Sunseri (now at Florida State) is one of the real leaders of the Crimson Tide.
Alabama is not out of good players at the safety position, but halfway through the season Bama has lost two good ones (assuming the worst for Sunseri). Prior to the third game of the year, senior safety Nick Perry suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in practice.
Bama got very good news prior to Saturday's Arkansas game when junior starting safety HaHa Clinton-Dix was reinstated by the NCAA after his brush with a potential violation stemming from his acceptance of a loan from an assistant Tide strength coach. Clinton-Dix had been practicing during his two-game suspension, but not always with the starting unit. Still, he proved ready to take over a first team role following Sunseri's injury.
Alabama plays with two safeties, a strong (the position Sunseri played) and weak (Clinton-Dix's position the past two seasons). The Tide practices with safeties playing left and right until game preparation begins in late August. That way, all the safeties learn to play both strong and weak.
Sunseri leads the Tide with two interceptions for 111 yards in returns and two touchdowns. His second score was a 72-yard return at Texas A&M when he put a move on 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who threw the pick and then missed the tackle on Sunseri. Alabama as a team has six interceptions this year, and Clinton-Dix has one of them, which he picked up against Arkansas.
C.J. Mosley is the runaway leader in tackles for Bama's defense. He has 29 primary stops and 29 assists for 58 total. Number two on the list, Clinton-Dix, has half that, a total of 29. Landon Collins, who started at safety in two games when Clinton-Dix was suspended, is third at 28. Jarrick Williams, who has played primarily at nickel, is a safety who ranks sixth in tackles with 21. Sunseri is seventh with 20.
This week Alabama hosts Tennessee, coming off an impressive upset of South Carolina. Kickoff Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium will be at 2:30 p.m. CDT with television coverage by CBS.
It seems likely that Clinton-Dix will start at safety and Landon Collins will be at strong safety. The real question for Bama going forward is depth at the safety positions after losing Sunseri and Perry.
Jarrick Williams has enough playing time to be considered a seasoned back-up. Beyond that is Geno Smith, who has been converted from cornerback, and Jai Miller, the former Major League baseball player who has returned to football 10 years since his days as a prep quarterback as a 29-year-old walk-on safety.
There's an adage: Safety in numbers. There's no reason for panic in the Bama camp, but the decline in numbers at safety bears watching.
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