Mailbag – Alabama Safeties

As promised, here’s another installment of the Alabama Football Podcast Mailbag.  We collected a good question from listener Bucky a few days ago and I thought others might be interested in both his question and our response.

If you have a question, don’t hesitate to drop us an email or contribute to this discussion in the comment section below.  In any case, Roll Tide!

Now, on to the QA.

Loved your discussion of the CB’s and Geno Smith. But what about the role of the safeties, especially Landon and Eddie Williams (I realize that his future may be on offense)?

AFP Response – Dave

Great question.  I find that sorting out the safeties in Saban’s system are a little harder…. at least this year because we’ve used so many of them in such unorthodox (relative to other Saban defenses) ways.  So rather that comment on the system as a whole, I’ll  give my 2 cents on the players you mentioned.

I’ll start with Landon Collins.  I think reading the tea leaves so to speak on Collins is similar to Geno Smith.  Both are true freshmen who have played early.  No risk that these guys were red shirt candidates and that distinction was made very early.  That tells me that Saban thinks very highly of their ability to pick up the system, or at least learn a specific role AND contribute early.

*NOTE: I purposely avoid saying that removing the redshirt speaks to their potential.  I think most players recruited under Saban have potential and the fact that some redshirt is not a statement as to the level of that potential – Barret Jones and AJ McCarron were non-injury redshirts, for example.  The pace of individual developement, the specific needs at a position, or the eligibility separation (roster management) at a given position are huge contributing factors here.

Also, similar to Smith, Collins has seen his playing time increase and he appears to be gaining ground on experienced guys who continue to struggle – my assessment.  Fulton was the example at corner and Nick Perry is the example at safety.  Also, Collins is making plays he could not have made earlier.  Also similar to Smith.

What is interesting on Collins is the talent and experience at safety ahead of him when he arrived – Lester, HaHa, Vinnie, not to mention Perry and Jarrick.  I see Collins as a blend of HaHa and Lester.  Big-ish like Lester but more athletic like HaHa.  I see him as a terror in the secondary once he fully learns the role and gets some experience.

I flat love the potential of a secondary with both HaHa and Collins manning the safety spots.  Recall, both were tabbed as possible CBs during their recruitment, so if they have hints of CB cover skills…. well, the potential for multiple looks from the secondary is amazing.  Disguising coverages will really be something when a safety on a receiver is not a text book mismatch.

This bowl practice window and spring are huge for these young guys.  If they come on, we’ll make some QBs look bad at times next year.

As for Eddie Williams.  I imagine this situation really annoys Saban and the coaching staff.  Eddie was having early success at WR but an injury to Jarrick and the defection of Travell Dixon forced us to move Eddie to Safety – for depth and even scout team duties.  As the season wore on, injuries to DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell probably made them wish they had never moved Eddie but who knew how it would all play out.  Think about it, we considered pulling the RS from Chris Black who was injured all season and unable to practice.  I have little doubt that Williams would have rotated in at WR when White went down, if not well before.  We did have a stretch with Cooper and Norwood banged up and no one else really emerged.  Eddie would have been given a shot or at least I think so.

That we did not burn his RS on defense or even special teams is an indicator to me that we’re saving him for WR and I expect that we’ll see him back at that position in the spring.

If that happens, watch out, Williams will “emerge from nowhere” next year.  All the buzz will be on the new guys, especially Foster, but Williams will have a year in the program and several practices at the position.  That’s not a knock on Foster at all, but a nod to Williams and his heralded ability.

I will say this as a (weak) counter balance.  Had Williams been available, I doubt Cooper would have exploded like he did.  The talent would still be there and he would have still contribued, but he would not have burst like he did.  We may have had a sitution in which 2 guys we’re trying to figure it out instead of one guy pressed into having to figure it out.  That could have been a rep (practice and game) splitting situation.  In the spring, assuming Eddie does move to WR, Cooper will be a known quantity and Eddie will be given the time and attention to develop.  That’s my take at a silver lining.

So consider the receiving options next year.  Cooper, a healthy group of Norwood, Bell, White, and Black, along with Eddie back at WR, plus Christion Jones and Cyrus Jones pushing to make their mark.  Not to mention the freshmen coming in.  That line up makes McCarron’s decision to return all the more explosive and impactful.

Also, look for something to break with Shinn and Woodson Jr.  They are both young and can still contribute but they need to make their move soon or they could face a steep uphill climb.  I’d bet, just based on watching this kind of thing for so long that one hangs around and becomes a Brandon Gibson type player and one transfers.  It just becomes a pecking order question at some point and at some point a guy wants to trade in the business of (not)playing at Alabama for the joy of playing time at a smaller school.  I don’t begrudge a player for making *that* decision once the writing becomes clear.  For example, players like BJ Scott and Star Jackson waited until the writing was clear while players like (my opinion) Travell and Alonzo Lawrence gave up on themselves and the program too early.

Thanks for the question Bucky and don’t hesitate to join the discussion in the comments below or email us your question for a future mailbag feature.

Roll Tide.