Green Has Made Big Decisions

There seems to be only one position of concern in analyses of Alabama's 2009 defense. That's partly because starters return at eight positions and quality back-ups are considered to be on hand to fill those spots and add depth at others.

Alabama's 12-2 season in 2008, according to Coach Nick Saban, was due, in part, to outstanding leadership from the players. There were two captains on offense, quarterback John Parker Wilson and center Antoine Caldwell. There was one captain on defense, Rashad Johnson. Longtime observers of Bama football think Johnson is among the finest leaders ever for the Crimson Tide. He was also an All-America caliber player.

Naturally, there is interest in who fills Johnson's shoes. Alabama uses two safeties. Last year Johnson was the free (or weak) safety and Justin Woodall the strong safety. Woodall, an upcoming senior, would seem to be one of the two who will start this year, but Saban has said only that there are three men leading for the two positions. One is Woodall. The others are Mark Barron and Robby Green. (Additionally, Saban has not ruled out the possibilities of Ali Sharrief and Tyrone King, although indications are they are more likely to participate in nickel and dime—five-man and six-man defensive back packages).

Based on how spring practice ended, Robby Green had the lead for a starting safety spot going to fall drills. That does not mean that Green will be in the lineup when Alabama kicks off on September 5 against Virginia Tech.

Green said, "It's a great competition right now between the safeties. We don't have any depth chart. There's no decision made yet. Everybody out there is just trying to work hard and trying to help each other make it to the next level. So we're just going out there and doing what we have to do. Coach is definitely right with the decision. It's going to be up to the coaches."

Green was a back-up cornerback last year. The 6-0, 180-pounder from New Orleans, saw action in 12 games as a reserve cornerback and special teams player. He was in on six tackles. He made the switch to safety in the spring and started with the first defense in the A-Day Game. During the spring, Bama coaches selected him as co-winner (with center William Vlachos) of the Ozzie Newsome Most Improved Freshman Award.

Green said he made the move because "Coach (Saban) called me in his office and told me he wanted some range in the secondary. He asked me was I willing to do it. I said yes sir. That was the key, right there, was the range purpose."

In the spring, Alabama worked using a left safety and right safety so all the safety candidates learned assignments for both strongside and weakside safety spots. Woodall, for one, thinks the Tide will revert to a strong and weak system for games, but that it was a good learning tool.

One task of a safety is to help make the calls for all players on defense. The players get a defensive alignment called from the sidelines. Then, based on personnel in the game, when the offensive team shows its alignment, the call may have to be adjusted.

It was not a surprise that Green said the biggest adjustment from corner to safety was "making all the calls. The fact that you're the quarterback of the defense makes it the hardest adjustment. At corner, it's just you and your guy. At safety, you've got everyone else to worry about."

With just over two weeks until the opening game of the 2009 season, Green said the transformation is a work in progress. "I've picked it up," he said. "There are still things I need to work on, some technique issues and some basic calls I still have to get. But it's coming along real well."

Green said he had a little background in high school making calls. Although he was primarily a cornerback, he said he played "a little safety."

He said he has one thing going for him as a play-caller. "I'm an out-going person," he said. "I like to speak. I always like to be heard on the field. That pretty much somes naturally to me."

From a physical standpoint, Green said his strength is "my cover ability. I'm able to cover, I got quick hips and fast to the ball."

Green said, "Rashad was a great leader and a great role model for all of us. It's gonna be big shoes to fill in that category. We're all working together to try to fill those shoes. There's no one person trying to fill it. It's all of us trying to get on the right page to fill Rashad's shoes."

Green played at famed John Curtis School in New Orleans. His senior season was particularly difficult. Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans on August 29. Green and his family had evacuated to Dallas. His mother stayed in Dallas to work, but Robby and his father, Robby, Sr., returned to New Orleans. "I wanted to come back and play at my high school," Green said. "So we moved back. We didn't have nothing in New Orleans. It was a hard time.

"Katrina prepared me for adversity. It kept me humble. Most guys, coming out of high school didn't go through some of the things I went through. It kept me humble. It set a goal for me, where I want to go in life. That kept me going, got me more family-oriented. That's what that was."

Although his father played at LSU, Robby said, "My dad didn't really force me or push me into going to LSU. It was really my decision and I made a great one."

If Green wins the safety job, he'll be expected to make great decisions on every defensive play.

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