Football Fight: Safety

Once upon a time it was a bad sign if the safety was making a lot of tackles. He was considered the last line of defense. At Vanderbilt, the safety might be the leading tackler. At Alabama he was expected to be like the Maytag repairman with almost nothing to do while the linemen and linebackers smothered the opposition.

No more. At Alabama and in many other top defensive schemes the safeties are expected to make a lot of tackles. And this year Bama has the difficult task of replacing three-year starter and All-Southeastern Conference performer Roman Harper.

Alabama's normal defensive scheme calls for two safetymen. The strong safety traditionally plays on the side of the offense's strong side (usually where there is a tight end) and the safety on the weak side. In fact, some schemes call the safety the weak safety. Additionally, Alabama (and many other teams) often use a nickel package in which a fifth defensive back–frequently a safety–is inserted. There are even so-called dime schemes, meaning a sixth defensive back.

To great extent, the strong safety and safety have the same assignments. In Alabama's scheme, the defense attempts to funnel opposing call carriers to linebackers and safeties to make tackles. Last year Harper was second in tackles for Bama, involved in 69. And strong safety Charlie Peprah (who is also being replaced this year) was sixth with 43.

It is not unfair to say that the biggest question mark on Alabama's defense going into 2006 is at safety. There are seven starters to replace on defense, but only at middle linebacker is there a lack of experience comparable to that at safety. Spring work by middle linebacker candidates was impressive. At strong safety, Jeffrey Dukes is a new starter, but he was a starter in the Cotton Bowl as the nickel back and has much more experience than any weak safety candidate.

Marcus Carter finished the spring as number one safety. The 6-1, 200-pound junior from Fort Payne was also a spring standout, winning the Bobby Johns Award as the most improved defensive back. In two years as primarily a special teams player, Carter had a total of four tackles. He had five tackles in this year's A-Day Game.

Senior walk-on Bryan Kilpatrick (6-4, 197) of Monroeville has been a steady practice performer, but has not had much game action in his career. But he was working with the second unit at safety at the end of spring practice.

Sam Burnthall (6-2, 190) of Decatur is a true freshman who has gone through spring practice. Originally at 2005 signee, he was a grayshirt and entered Bama in January. Burnthall split time at number two and number three safety in the spring and demonstrated toughness and a nose for the football on running plays.

A highly-regarded incoming freshman safety is Justin Woodall (6-1, 200) of Oxford, Mississippi. Woodall tied the Mississippi prep record of 16 interceptions held by Steve McNair as a junior. He was also a top baseball pitcher who eschewed a pro baseball contract to show up at Alabama this summer to participate in pass skeleton drills.

Although we are listing Jake Jones as a wide receiver based on his work in summer pass skeleton drills, the 6-0, 185-pound signee from Mountain Brook was recruited as a safety and might be in the mix on defense.

It is not impossible that Rashad Johnson, the 5-11, 178-pound sophomore from Sulligent, who was a hit on special teams coverage teams last year, would get a look at safety. He walked on at Bama as a running back, but was moved to strong safety in the spring and did very well. Last year he had eight special teams tackles and caused a fumble against Auburn.

Editor's Note: This is one in a summer series of looks at Alabama's football depth chart heading into the start of fall practice, which begins August 8.

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