Editor's note: From now until the start of spring camp on March 16, TideNation will count down the 12 most intriguing players to watch on the Alabama football roster. Today we look at safety Landon Collins.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The training wheels are set to come off of Landon Collins in a few weeks when spring practice begins at the University of Alabama. No longer a rookie, it's the former five-star safety's time to prove he belongs in the SEC. Robert Lester is gone and there's a vacancy in the secondary with his name on it. Now, all he has to do is win the job.
Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, Nick Perry, Vinnie Sunseri and Jarrick Williams will all compete with Collins to fill the two safety positions. And in all likelihood, Cinton-Dix, who started 10 of 14 games, already has one of the spots filled up, leaving four men and one position to do battle over.
There's little doubt Collins is the most talented option. According to ESPN, the former Under Armour All-American was the No. 1-ranked safety in the 2012 class, the top-rated player Alabama signed and the sixth best prospect in the country. He runs a sub-4.4 second 40-yard dash at 6-foot and 202 pounds.
His above-average athleticism showed up mainly on special teams last season, where he finished with 17 total tackles. He also blocked a kick late in the season, no doubt earning him brownie points with a coaching staff that values the small things more than most. He was one of four players to win the Special Teams Award at the end of the the year team banquet.
Rather than use Collins all over the field, Alabama coach Nick Saban opted to keep him on special teams and use him sparingly on defense. In other words, he brought him along slowly rather than burden him with too many responsibilities at once.
Sunseri, who starred on special teams in 2011 before seeing his role expand, said he saw Collins progress as the year went along. When it was Collins' turn to come on for mop up duty, Sunseri said he saw him, "not make any mental errors and play with tenacity."
With Lester gone along with top cornerback Dee Milliner, the secondary will need all the help it can get. The cornerback position could be thin with an up-and-down Deion Belue returning and a young but talented option in rising sophomore Geno Smith. Bradley Sylve could play a role and rising senior John Fulton has a shot at significant reps if he can recover from a nagging turf toe injury. With so much up in the air, the safety position becomes that much more important.
For Alabama to be successful, the back end of the defense has to hold up its end of the bargain. If Collins develops into the ballhawking safety some expect, it would go a long way to shoring up the entire secondary.