As every coach will tell you, competition---the more vigorous, the better---never fails to improve team play. "They don't want to lose their spot; that's the main thing," Harper said. "When you've got somebody pushing you, then you're not going to give up. That's the main difference.
"Last year they probably weren't pushed as hard. Now, it's making the defense better."
After sitting out last year redshirting, Harper is currently running just behind Charles Jones, No. 2 at free safety. "Spring has been going pretty good for me," Harper said. "I know the system now, so I'm passed that. I've just got to keep getting better, keep working hard to try and get me some playing time."
In high school, Harper played quarterback and free safety for Prattville his senior year. Despite breaking his leg, he finished the season with 58 tackles and four interceptions in limited playing time.
Working now at free safety, Harper explained the difference between ‘free' and ‘strong.' "There is not really that much difference. The only difference is at strong safety you're playing more man (coverage), while at free you read more, run to the ball and make plays. I like doing that, and I guess they think I'm pretty good at it. That plays to my strengths.
"Playing free is all we did in high school. Just roam and go make plays. I like it. I just want to go make some plays."
It's all about interceptions, and Harper has the attitude that every ball in his area belongs to him. "Ball hawking, I guess. If I'm going to get a chance, I'm going to get it. I don't like sharing the ball. But you have to let your teammates get some glory, too."
Like the other Tide defensive backs, Harper is getting to know Alabama's only new assistant. When Ron Case retired, Coach Franchione hired Melvin Smith away from Mississippi State to handle the Tide safeties. "Coach Smith has got an interesting personality," Harper said. "He's going to talk to you and tell you what you did wrong. He likes to get on you, but he's positive, too. He's a good coach. I really enjoy him.
"He's a cool guy. He's getting more friendly now, instead of just a coaching thing. With everybody it's become more of a family atmosphere now."
As Harper pointed out, Coach Smith can be a nice guy when the situation calls for it. But aggressiveness always comes first. "Always go after the ball--you can't drop a pass," Harper said. "With Coach Case if we dropped a pass, sometimes that would be OK if we just knocked it down. But now if we knock it down, we're still in trouble. You've always got to get that interception.
"You've got to be aggressive. He wants you to beat up receivers. Defense with everybody. Lower your head. Be real physical. Be mean. We're working on it. We're getting better."
A slender 6-1, 185 or so pounds, to achieve that necessary level of aggression Harper knows he's got to continue to work in the weight room. "I've got to put on some weight," he said firmly. I'm up from 175 or so when I got here. It's not easy for me. I'll lose two pounds and then gain three back."
Despite the fact that Harper has yet to play a snap of college football, his goal is to start next fall versus MTSU. "I'm not satisfied; I want to make first string," he said. "But me and Charley (Jones) are good. Right now as long as I'm in the rotation I'm fine with it. Charles is a veteran.
"Me and Charley are cool. I just want to play. Hopefully I want to end up No. 1."
Between now and the end of spring, Harper is keeping things simple. "I need to improve more on my ‘off man' coverage and my tackling. I just want to keep playing and make some more plays."