Last year Roman Harper was Bama's starter at strong safety and was the Tide's second-leading tackler with 111, behind only DeMeco Ryans (126). He was part of Alabama history as Derrick Pope had 105 tackles, the first time Bama has had three men with more than 100 tackles in a season.
Once upon a time the strong safety position was more like a linebacker, but today both the strong safety and free safety are required to be excellent tacklers and defenders against the run. As Harper said, "There's really no big difference at all. It might mean I'm just not in the box (the area within five yards of the offensive snap) quite as much."
Last year's free safety, Charles Jones, has graduated. Harper said one reason the spring switch came easy for him is because "Charles and I worked together last year. Sometimes I'd just stay on the free safety side and he'd stay on the strong side…especially if I was tired and didn't want to run to the other side."
Harper has watched his replacement with interest. Now he'll be teamed with Charlie Peprah, last year's starting left cornerback, at the safety spots. "Charlie's built himself up a lot," Harper said. "He's doing great. I enjoy watching him play. He can hit and he can run. I think he'll make more plays this year than he did last year."
Harper is glad that practice time has arrived. He spent the summer in Tuscaloosa under the "guidance" of Strength and Conditioning Coach Kent Johnston. "The last couple of weeks have been real hard," Harper said. "I'm really anxious to get out there with the other guys and do football. I'm tired of running laps. I've never known anyone to run like we've did. But I know it will help us in the fourth quarter. Everyone's in great shape."
Harper is also anxious to get the 2004 season so that 2003 can be put in the past. "I had never been on a losing team before," he said of the 4-9 record. "It hurt so much. It was just terrible to lose those games. This year I'm looking forward to a different game. I think everyone is. The attitude is great. We've worked hard. And we're more familiar with the system, which I think is really going to make a difference."
He said that summer pass skeleton drills have been beneficial. "It's mostly an offensive drill, but we get our chances, too," he said of the summer shorts work in which quarterbacks throw to wide receivers, backs and tight ends against a defense of linebackers and defensive backs. He said he was impressed with incoming freshmen receivers Keith Brown, Will Oakley and D.J. Hall, who spent the summer in Tuscaloosa. "All of them did well," he said. "They all have a lot to learn, but they all have great potential."