Chris James, a three-year letter-winner, left The University during the spring semester and was seemingly off the football team. But James, who left for what have been described only as "personal reasons," kept up academically in junior college, and this summer returned to Alabama and will be a part of the 2004 Crimson Tide.
James, 6-0, 195, hasn't made much of a mark at safety, but he is an Alabama record-holder on special teams. He blocked four kicks last season, which is a Crimson Tide single season record, and he is one blocked kick away from tying the Crimson Tide career record. While he will continue to be an important member of special teams, he is also expected to contribute at free safety.
Charles Jones was the free safety from mid-season 2001 until completing his career last season, and he was a dandy. Last year he teamed with Roman Harper, who was the strong safety. This year Harper, a 6-0, 191-pound junior, moves to free safety.
Once upon a time the safety, sometimes called the free safety or weak safety, was more responsible for helping in pass coverage, while the strong safety played closer to the line and was considered something of a hybrid, part linebacker, part defensive back. Now both positions are expected to be excellent tacklers for run support, and also play pass coverage. Also in the past, it was the sign of a weak team if the safety had a lot of tackles, but today's safeties are expected to fill gaps and make tackles.
Last year Harper was the third member of the Alabama defense to record over 100 tackles, 111, the first time in Bama history for three men to crack the century mark, while Jones was Bama's fourth-leading tackler with 91. (Also with 100-plus tackles were linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Derrick Pope.)
With Harper moving to safety, Alabama coaches had to do some experimenting in the spring. That task was helped immeasurably by the performance of sophomore cornerback Ramzee Robinson. Robinson did so well at left cornerback that two-year starter Charlie Peprah was able to move to strong safety, where he did an excellent job.
Peprah, the 5-10, 189-pound junior who was a freshman All-America, had four interceptions each of the past two years after being redshirted in 2001. He had 69 tackles last season, an indication that he should be able to handle strong safety responsibilities. Although his back-up is listed as senior Carlos Andrews (5-11, 210), this is another spot where an incoming freshman his highly-anticipated. Marcus Carter (6-1, 190) is considered an excellent prospect at strong safety and a player who could challenge for playing time in his first season. Although Andrews, who has worked both in the secondary and at wide receiver in the past, may surprise and compete hard for playing time, he has not appeared to be taking part in this summer's pass skeleton work.