Case developing depth at safety

When Dennis Franchione first took over the Alabama program, there were many facets of the team that cried out for work. A strong, well-coached team simply doesn't stumble to a 3-8 record. But probably no part of the squad was in more desperate need of coaching than the secondary. And the decision was quickly made to assign two coaches the task of turning things around. Cornerbacks would be handled by Chris Thurmond, and veteran Ron Case was coaxed out of retirement to coach the safeties.

With more than 30 years of college coaching behind him--not to mention almost a decade of experience as a player/coach for the Marine Corps--Case brought a calm, no-nonsense attitude to the task. "(Coach Case) is kind of quiet, but when you get in the meeting room he'll let you know," related Waine Bacon, now slated to start at strong safety as Shontua Ray recovers from a knee problem. "On the field with the fast pace of our practice, you don't have time for corrections right on the spot. But when we watch film in the meeting rooms, Coach Case gets on you. He lets you know."

One of Case's most important jobs has been to develop depth at both safety positions, as obvious insurance against potential injury. And early on versus UCLA a loose piece of cartilage in Ray's knee proved the wisdom of that preparation. "I thought Waine did a good job for himself," Case said. "He handled himself well, and got a lot of valuable experience that will help him versus Vanderbilt. He's got to come forward and help us win football games. Of course he doesn't have a choice. He's got to go and do it."

Former walk-on Waine Bacon is now likely to start at strong safety.

Having turned down a scholarship in the ACC to walk-on at Alabama, many assume that Bacon isn't the equal of other Tide athletes. But that assumption would be incorrect. "Waine's speed, strength and vertical jump are his strengths," Case related. "He has the highest vertical jump in the secondary. He and Shontua Ray are two of the strongest guys in the secondary. Waine has developed himself into a good player. We could not have gone out and signed a better one, so I'm grateful he's here."

That athletic ability has Bacon participating on special teams as well, resulting in 71 total plays for the Maryland native. "I thought he did a good job, plus he was in on a lot of special teams," Case explained. "He probably had 20 or more snaps on special teams. He had a day's work. He's in good shape, so if he keeps gaining experience I think he'll be a player for us."

Cases admits that's a high number for an inexperienced player, but don't expect the coaches to make any accommodations at the expense of the kicking game. Said Case; "We don't take anybody off special teams. We'll put a backup in and rest them in the game, but we don't take anybody off special teams."

Converted cornerback Carlos Andrews backing up at safety.

Football remains the ultimate team game. One player goes down--another steps in to take his place. Bacon's tutelage by Coach Case during spring and Fall Camp had him prepared for the challenge. But now that he's the main man at strong safety part of the focus shifts to teaching a new backup. "Right now we're getting Carlos Andrews trained," Case said. "We moved him from cornerback (early in Fall Camp), and he's getting close. He wasn't ready to play that game, even though he did take two snaps. But he's got to get ready here very shortly. Right now Waine's backup is Carlos Andrews."

The former backup turned starter explained the process. "We moved Carlos from corner, because we needed more depth at safety," Bacon said. "He's adjusting well. He played corner, so he pretty much knows what the safety's responsibilities are. All he's got to do is get his assignments and techniques down, and he'll be OK."

Expect both Bacon and Andrews to work at strong safety in Saturday's game versus Vanderbilt. But thankfully for Tide fans the free safety position is more settled.

Free safety Reggie Myles is now the veteran of the unit.

In senior Reggie Myles, Case has a seasoned veteran who is no stranger to the starting role. "Reggie has done a good job," Case said. "He did a good job tackling (versus UCLA), and he was always around the ball. He was correct in his checks."

It seems like just last year that the sometimes-volatile Myles was thrown into the fire of SEC competition as a true freshman, but now the Mississippi native has become the veteran. "His leadership on the field during the game was good," Case said. "He's got the only experience out there, so right now we're counting on him to be a guy to provide leadership for us on the field. At this point we have no problem with that aspect of his play."

Backing up Myles at free safety is a player that took a few years to develop, but third-year sophomore Charles Jones saw significant action versus the Bruins. "He had about 18 snaps, and that's about right for a guy that has not been on the field," Case said. "I wanted to be able to phase (the backups) in and not throw them in there--give them a chance to be in and out. Learn and watch, get back in and learn and watch. I did that with Charles Jones."

Sophomore Charles Jones is now ready to contribute.

Jones first arrived on campus as an undersized former high school option quarterback. No one ever doubted his intelligence or desire, but he required some time to mature physically. "Charles Jones is ready to go," Case said. "He took a year or two to develop, but now he's ready. He's a smart kid. He's one that needs to gain a little weight, but in his head he's got it. He does a good job getting us in the right checks and coverages.

"In the Vanderbilt game he'll get at least four series, two series the first half and two the second half, so he'll get at least 20 plays. If something happened to Reggie, then I don't think we'd miss a beat."

Heading into the season-opener, the Tide coaches were frankly worried about how their young and mostly inexperienced DBs would hold up against a hard-running Bruin team. But in one of the pleasant surprises from last Saturday's game, the physical play from Bama's safeties was pretty good. "We tackled well," Case acknowledged. "It wasn't perfect, but we didn't miss any that hurt us. That's what gets you in trouble."

Safeties Coach Ron Case

But Case explains that improvement was hardly an accident; "We work at a tackling circuit every Tuesday, and we tackle again (on Wednesdays). We would tackle on Thursday, but we probably won't have any pads on."

UCLA was an excellent running team with the ability to throw the ball as well. But next week's opponent presents an entirely different challenge. "Vandy does throw the ball, and they like to go down the field passing," Case explained. "They'll run the ball if you let them, but they gain most of their yardage by the pass."

Case warns that the Commodore skill players could give Bama all it can handle. "They've got a very good quarterback. (Greg Zolman) just took over the completion record in the conference. This is his fifth year, so he'll be even smarter. He's a good quarterback, and I think he's got a big-time arm.

"And he's got good enough receivers; you've got to respect everything they do. One guy, M.J. Garrett, got over 200 yards in a half, so he's obviously good. They'll be all pumped up and ready. That's certain."

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