Stuart McNair

Alabama lost Eddie Jackson, so Ronnie Harrison may have increased role

Alabama sophomore Ronnie Harrison is having a good year at safety

The loss of all-star safety Eddie Jackson continues to be part of the discussion of Alabama’s football team as the Crimson Tide prepares for its Southeastern Conference game at LSU Saturday.

Bama, 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the SEC and ranked first in the nation, takes on the Tigers (5-2, 3-1, ranked 13th in the College Football Playoff poll) in Baton Rouge at 7 p.m. CDT Saturday with CBS televising the game.

In his weekly SEC teleconference, Alabama Coach Nick Saban was asked about the importance of depth as a team gets late into the season when injuries can be a factor for a team. Saban said, “I think it’s a critical factor.

“Don James, who was the first guy I worked for (at Kent State), used to say the quality of your team long term is going to get determined by the bottom 40 guys on your team, not the top 40. Sometimes that makes a lot of sense, especially when you get into this time of year.”

Saban has not disclosed exactly how Alabama will adjust personnel to make up for the loss of Jackson. The weekly depth chart issued by the Tide is delivered with the caveat that it is not to be held as necessarily accurate on game day. That depth chart shows Hootie Jones in the strong safety spot previously held by Jackson, and Jones did play in that position following Jackson’s loss to a broken leg against Texas A&M.

Though not specifically addressed, it is reasonable to suggest that more responsibility now falls to Jackson’s running mate in the deep secondary, sophomore Ronnie Harrison.

Harrison came to Alabama for the spring semester in 2015 and earned playing time – including one start – in his freshman year.

At Florida State University High School in Tallahassee, Harrison was ranked as the nation’s 19th best safety prospect and was a member of the Scout 300. He was also his team’s quarterback as a prep star.

Saban was asked about making Harrison a defensive back over quarterback. He said, “I think the first thing is is you look at a guy athletically and say this guy is a good enough athlete to play someplace. We were fortunate enough to get Ronnie to come to our camp early in his career and got to see him do some things as a defensive back. That really convinced us that he could be a really, really good player, and he’s certainly turned out that way.

“I don’t know if it’s overblown or not, but I do think that guys that play quarterback most of the time have a bigger picture understanding of the game because of what they have to do as a quarterback whether it’s what the offensive team is trying to do or what the defensive team is trying to do.

“In most cases, in my experience, guys that play quarterback that have the physical characteristics and meet the critical factors to play another position are fairly instinctive guys that have a pretty good understanding of the overall game.”

Saban said this year’s secondary “at times” has played very well, but said he would like it to play better. “And,” he said, “hopefully we can continue to be consistent in that. I think it’s  going to be very important this week because of the vertical passing game that we’ll face; that our secondary plays very good in run support but also has great eye control and discipline to be able to play the play-passes and the vertical passing game.”

Harrison ranks third for Alabama in tackles with 38 (27 primary), including one tackle for loss, and has intercepted two passes which he has returned for 64 yards (including a 58-yard touchdown return against Tennessee), has broken up three passes, has two quarterback pressures, and two fumble recoveries (one of which he returned 55 yards for a TD against Kentucky).

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