Looking for two good men

Secondary Coach Chris Ball has his share of athletes this spring, but so far at least he's still got one position open. <br><br>"We were hoping to find two safeties, heading into spring," he acknowledged. "We've found one so far."

The one he's talking about is of course Roman Harper. But Chris Ball is still looking for Harper's running mate.

"It's still early, but we're still looking for another," Ball said. "We've gotten our first two weeks (of spring practice) in."

Last season Harper (6-0, 191) started every game for the Tide, totaling an impressive 111 tackles on the year, second-best on the squad.

"Roman had a lot of tackles last year, and he'll probably have quite a few more this year as well," Ball commented. "He's a good tackler. He gets where he needs to be. Roman runs well on the football field, which puts him in a good position to make plays."

Barring injury, Roman Harper will start at one safety position.

In 2003 Harper handled the strong safety position with Charles Jones starting beside him. Just before spring practice began the coaches announced Roman had been moved over to Jones' vacated free safety slot, but Coach Ball downplays the move.

"Both our safeties are interchangeable," Ball explained. "It's funny, because some people made a big deal about our switching Roman from strong safety to free, but they're similar positions. They both have to go down in the box (for run support). They both have to play halves and full field (in pass defense). It's just a name."

In years past defensive backs could often be slotted according to size. Safeties traditionally had more of a role in run support, so taller, heavier athletes always ended up there with shorter, quicker players at cornerback.

This season both Charlie Peprah (5-10, 189) and Eric Gray (5-11, 190) are big enough to handle run support, but don't expect Ball to move either current cornerback to safety.

"That's not how we look at it," Ball explained. "Nowadays with all the big, tall receivers we're playing against, you've got to have those taller, bigger guys to play cornerback. If not, you're going to get a height mismatch. That's what the offensive coaches would love, so we've got to have some height from our (cornerbacks)."

Two fifth-year seniors started spring competing for the open safety slot. Carlos Andrews (5-11, 210) has played strong safety for most of his Tide career, always talented enough to be mentioned as a possible starter but never seizing the role. On the other hand, Thurman Ward (6-1, 186) has bounced back and forth from cornerback to wide receiver.

Carlos Andrews

Ball and the rest of the Bama staff would love for one of those veteran athletes to step up and seize the starting job, but so far neither athlete has.

"Consistency is the big thing with both Carlos and Thurman," Ball pointed out. "They'll make a few good plays, and then they'll have a bad play. We're really working on their being more consistent in their assignments, making good on their ability."

In Saturday's scrimmage Andrews played with the first unit, garnering four tackles (one for a loss) and a quarterback sack. Ward ran with the twos and was credited with three tackles. The former option quarterback showed some flash later in the scrimmage, plucking a tipped pass out of the air for an interception.

Ball talked about the adjustment Ward must make in moving from cornerback to safety.

Thurman Ward

"Corner is probably mentally a little easier to play, but physically it's a lot harder to play. Thurman has made the adjustment mentally. He's a smart player. He knows the game of football really well. Thurman knows where he needs to be, but he's got to get used to playing down in the box (on run support) and the different things safeties have to do."

Surprisingly, a walk-on athlete has caught Ball's eye at safety as much as anyone else. Bryan Kilpatrick (6-4, 199) turned in four tackles and a sack Saturday.

"We like Kilpatrick's effort," Ball acknowledged. "He's doing a good job. Carlos and Ward are getting a lot of reps at safety, also. We'll just have to wait and see how (the competition) ends up."

As a walk-on, Kilpatrick has overcome more obstacles than most to get to second string.

Bryan Kilpatrick

Ball commented, "He's a story, no question. Bryan is big and he's physical. He understands the game of football. He's really doing a good job for us. He's 6-4 and right around 200 pounds, which is good sized."

As Ball pointed out, it's gratifying to see hard work pay off for players like Kilpatrick. But getting contributions from non-scholarshipped players is not so much a luxury this year for the Tide as a necessity.

Ball explained, "It's real special to see a (walk-on) accomplish that, but especially this year. We need some guys to step up this year. We need to get more out of our walk-ons, playing time and special teams. Bryan is a guy that can help us in the kicking game and at safety."

NOTE: Two highly touted defensive backs that signed with Alabama this year played safety in high school. If the safety position doesn't sort itself out this spring, then look for both Simeon Castille and Marcus Carter to get a long look in the fall.

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