Alabama Crimson Tide: Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- One thing leads to another, at least on defense.

Alabama's secondary wasn't its best for some parts of last season, giving up big plays against LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia, to name a few. There were times where starting cornerback Deion Belue was picked on and moments where safeties Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix looked out of place. Zach Mettenberger threw for a career-high 298 passing yards in Baton Rouge, Johnny Manziel had his Heisman Trophy moment in Tuscaloosa and Aaron Murray moved the ball everywhere but the final 5 yards he needed to win in Atlanta.

[+] EnlargeXzavier Dickson, Aaron Murray
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAlabama's defense produced only 86 tackles for loss in 2012, five from linebacker Xzavier Dickson. In 2011, the Tide produced 96 tackles for loss in one fewer game.
The secondary wasn't perfect, but it wasn't the whole story.

Alabama's pass rush wasn't its best for all of last season either, failing to register multiple sacks in five games. The pressure, as coach Nick Saban would put it, was not coming consistently enough. The defense didn't finish in the top 25 nationally for sacks or tackles for loss in 2012, trailing eight other SEC teams in negative plays. And without help from the front seven, the back end of the defense was exposed.

As Saban pointed out after Alabama's spring game, pass defense boils down to two things: "I'm talking about pass rush; I'm talking about discipline in coverage."

Now that fall camp is nearly here, the defense will have its opportunity to improve in both areas. Clinton-Dix and Belue are a year wiser, and the defensive line has some fresh blood to it with Jeoffrey Pagan and Brandon Ivory moving into starting roles.

Veteran linebacker C.J. Mosley said at SEC Media Days last week that he felt like the secondary is "bonding together" and that it is in line to have a good year. The loss of shutdown corner Dee Milliner hurts, but Mosley feels like the defense has a star in the making in Clinton-Dix, who has played in 27 games and made 10 starts since signing with Alabama in 2010.

"He's smart, he's a leader in that secondary and he's starting to be more vocal," Mosley said. "I expect big things out of him this year."

Mosley went on to say that he was impressed with the way Cyrus Jones transitioned to defensive back in the spring. The former wide receiver ran some with the first-team defense at nickel and has a chance to compete with senior John Fulton to become one of the first cornerbacks off the bench.

"This summer, he basically knows the whole defense," Mosley explained.

Saban said that while he hasn't had the chance to see his secondary since spring camp, he's hopeful they're doing better.

"Fulton coming back is a little more experienced guy who wasn’t in spring practice," Saban said. "We had a lot of young guys who made a lot of mistakes, and that’s important to development and important to learning, and hopefully those guys will improve because of that."

True freshmen Maurice Smith, Jonathan Cook and Eddie Jackson will all compete at defensive back this fall. Fellow 2013 signees Anthony Averett and ArDarius Stewart might see some time there as well, as both are currently listed on the roster as athletes. And judging by the staff's use of running back Dee Hart and wide receiver Christion Jones at corner this spring, anyone is an option to provide depth at cornerback this season.

While it's unsure whether any of the rookies will pick up the defense in time to contribute as freshmen, one thing is certain: a strong defensive line will go a long way in helping the secondary.

Mosley said that while the defense may lack a "dominant player," he's looking for Adrian Hubbard to come into his own in 2013 and pick up where he left off last season, when he had three sacks in his final three games.

"He's going to mean a lot," Mosley said, "especially being one of our key rushers and one of the leaders at outside linebacker. We need to make sure that we hold him accountable to his job and he's doing the right thing to better the young guys that are looking up to him.

"This past season he showed a glimpse into what he's capable of, but this season we're going to need a lot more, and we're going to need to make sure he brings his 'A' game every day."

One of those young guys learning from Hubbard is redshirt freshman defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson, who has drawn positive reviews from teammates and coaches alike since missing all of last season recovering from an injury. Saban touted the former state wrestling champ's athleticism and quickness and said he has a chance to be part of the rotation on the defensive line. Pagan called Tomlinson a "different man" this spring, someone who can be an impact player.

Mosley, for his part, said he was ready for fall camp to arrive so he can see what his defense is made of. So far some freshmen have caught his eye, but only time will tell how they stand up to the real pressure.

"Denzel Devall is doing good, Reuben Foster, Walker Jones, a lot of the defensive players, a lot of the freshmen that came in, especially at DB," he said when asked who has stood out during summer workouts. "They're doing a good job competing with each other.

"When camp comes, when coach starts getting on them, and that heat starts getting on them, we'll really see what players are made of."
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- When you're talking about drafting a team of all-time Alabama greats, there's an important point to consider. While you're combing through the litany of All-Americans and Hall of Famers, it's vital to keep in mind that those lists are incomplete. There are, in fact, many more players worthy of being drafted to an all-time team than those who have come in the past. There are plenty of current players who will one day fit the bill as well.

Amari Cooper, Cyrus Kouandjio, AJ McCarron, C.J. Mosley and T.J. Yeldon already were selected by our three mock general managers. But who else will one day be considered one of the greatest to ever lace it up in Tuscaloosa?

[+] EnlargeHa'Sean Clinton-Dix
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesHa Ha Clinton-Dix has developed slowly in two seasons with the Tide, but his performance in the BCS title game vaulted him onto the national radar.
S Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix: His family and friends call him "Ha Ha Clinton-Dix," but the world might know him as an All-American and first-round draft pick by the time everything is said and done with his career at the Capstone. The former four-star prospect out of Florida has come along slowly at Alabama, though. This past season he started all but four games and ended the year with a spectacular leaping interception against Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game. With seasoning, he has all the skill to develop into an Ed Reed type of safety who can shut down half the field with his ability to change direction and anticipate the play.

Crimson Countdown: Landon Collins 

June, 14, 2013
During the summer, TideNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Alabama roster -- excluding the Tide's 2013 recruiting class -- in our Crimson Countdown series. Starting with No. 1 Dee Hart, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 99 Brandon Ivory.

No. 26 Landon Collins
Sophomore safety

Expectations for 2013: Nick Saban didn't want to bring Collins along too quickly and give him too much to do as a rookie last season. He said as much at last year's SEC media days, citing what he believed to be an instance where he stunted Mark Barron's growth as a freshman by having him learn multiple positions. Instead, the head coach of the Crimson Tide took the No. 1 safety in the 2012 class and had him learn the defense slowly.

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During the summer, TideNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Alabama roster -- excluding the Tide's 2013 recruiting class -- in our Crimson Countdown series. Starting with No. 1 Dee Hart, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 99 Brandon Ivory.

No. 6 Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix
Junior safety

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Spring evaluation: Secondary 

May, 9, 2013
Editor's note: TideNation will use this week to look at the four major positions on the football field and how their outlook has changed post-spring practice. Today we examine the secondary:

Who's leading?

Geno Smith came on like a bullet last season, and it appears his momentum won't slow down anytime soon. The former four-star prospect earned playing time late last season as a freshman, and he should be in line for a starting job this fall. He had a strong showing during spring practice, aided by the absence of senior John Fulton who was sidelined with a turf toe injury. Smith will start alongside Deion Belue, who was picked on for much of this past season -- his first at Alabama.

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Alabama 10: Spring wrap

April, 21, 2013
With spring practice complete and fall camp right around the corner, TideNation's power rankings return with a look at the top 10 Alabama players heading into the offseason.

1. QB AJ McCarron (Last ranking: 2): After three trips to the White House, there's not much that fazes McCarron. Even after two interceptions in the A-Day game, there wasn't an ounce of concern. "None," in his words, and at this point in his career there shouldn't be. His championship rings, his record-breaking stats and his talent speak for themselves. There might not be a more decorated quarterback in school history by the time he hangs it up.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDespite an injury he has battled all spring, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley had no trouble making tackles and causing a fumble Saturday.
2. ILB C.J. Mosley (3): It's one thing for a quarterback to play with a black jersey. It's another for a linebacker to do it. But a bum shoulder wouldn't slow Mosley down. The rising senior and leading tackler from last season played all spring with a shoulder harness and a no-contact jersey, yet he found a way to contribute. On Saturday, Mosley finished with a team-high nine "tackles" and, more impressively, caused and recovered a fumble on the same play.

3. LT Cyrus Kouandjio (NR): He's the rock, the anchor to a line replacing three starters. And if you're going to start over, it's nice to have a franchise left tackle like Kouandjio. The rising junior enters the season as arguably the most prized offensive linemen in the SEC. It's only a matter of time before he declares for the NFL draft and is taken near the top of the first round, so Tide fans should enjoy him while they can.

4. RB T.J. Yeldon (7): It's almost as though Yeldon was an afterthought as many fans clung to the untapped potential of early enrollee Derrick Henry this spring. It's typical of a talented team, though, as Yeldon, only a sophomore, is already taken for granted. It was only a year ago that he was the energizing rookie making fans forget about incumbent Eddie Lacy. Unoticed or not, Yeldon is a feature back worth his weight in gold.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- As with any intrasquad scrimmage, there are two sides to the coin. On the one hand, the offense can look spectacular and the defense maligned. Saturday was the opposite, as more than 78,000 fans watched Alabama's defense dominate, forcing a whopping six interceptions and four fumbles.

And while coach Nick Saban argued that the turnovers were a result of poor offensive execution, one must also tip the cap to a secondary, which began the game as arguably the biggest source of discontent. In fact, before kickoff, Saban was asked by a television reporter what one area concerned him most. The defensive backfield was his answer.

But Nick Perry and a host of other defensive backs answered the bell Saturday afternoon. Perry had two interceptions, and together as a defense the Crimson Tide held its quarterbacks to a paltry 102.8 quarterback rating, compared to the 174.3 rating it posted last season.

[+] EnlargeNick Perry
AP Photo/Butch DillDefensive back Nick Perry (27) had a banner day Saturday, including two interceptions.
“We told each other before we broke into our separate teams that we might be on two different teams today, but we’re all one unit," said UA safety Vinnie Sunseri. "It’s different this year. We’re trying to make sure we fly around to the ball, create turnovers and make it hard for the quarterback."

On top of the interceptions, the defense had 10 pass breakups.

Sunseri said he and projected starting safety Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix looked at each other before the game and said they'd give it all they had.

"And that’s what we did," Sunseri said. "Try to make as many plays as we can against one of the best offenses in the nation in my opinion."

The big winner was Perry, who is fighting for the spot opposite Clinton-Dix at safety. Sunseri, Landon Collins, Jarrick Williams and others are in the fight for reps as well. Collins, a former five-star prospect, had an interception and a pass breakup as well. But Perry hoped what he did would push him through the offseason.

"I’m trying to get a little momentum going in the summer and fall camp," the rising senior said. "This is my last go-round so I’m trying to make the most of it.”

“We’re all just competing and having fun with it. Whatever happens happens. They’re going to play the best player but we’re still rooting each other on because either way, whoever’s on the field, they’re representing us as a team. We’re all competing and critiquing each other and making each other better.”

Playing both ways

Saban was emphatic that the Christion Jones experiment of playing defensive back would continue, but not in a way that he would be taken away from his duties as a wide receiver.

"I answered this question numerous times before and the answer is not going to change," he said. "Christion Jones has done a really good job on both sides of the ball. The object of what we did this spring is so that if we need the guy to play corner in the fall, he can play it. He'll know how to do it.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's a good problem to have, losing players early to the NFL draft. Alabama coach Nick Saban knows all too well what it's like to watch talent walk out the door, especially from the secondary. In two of the last three drafts he's seen at least one of his defensive backs get taken in the first round. This year will be no different as Dee Milliner is likely to go among the top 10 picks.

"We keep losing first-round picks back there," Saban told ESPN on Wednesday afternoon. "For guys to step up on a consistent basis is the biggest concern I have."

Not a rebuilt offensive line, a thin linebacking corps or a defensive line replacing two of three starters. It's the secondary that worries Saban most.

[+] EnlargeDee Milliner
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireDee Milliner stepped in and became an immediate impact player in Alabama's secondary. Now that he's NFL-bound, who's next for the Tide?
"Even though we have a lot of guys back at safety, we don't have the depth or quality corners and experience at corner that we've had in the past," he said, "so that's the challenge."

With top reserve cornerback John Fulton out all spring recovering from a turf toe injury, the depth in the secondary has been left wanting. As a result, Alabama opened camp with three offensive players trying their hands at cornerback: running back Dee Hart and wide receivers Christion Jones and Cyrus Jones.

It was an experiment, Saban said, one he hoped would yield at least one player who could make the move to defense full time. And after 10 practices it appears he's found his man. Cyrus, who caught four passes as a reserve wideout last season, has practiced every day at corner and has even spent some time with the first unit at nickel back.

"The first couple weeks out there, it felt weird because [Cyrus] used to be right next to me, running routes with me," said UA receiver Kenny Bell, "but he took ownership of the position."

Bell went on to say that Cyrus has become a "great player" on defense, a spot he's familiar with from his time at Gilman School in Baltimore. Cyrus was the No. 4-rated athlete in the 2012 class and could have played on either side of the ball, according to scouts. It just so happens he would play both in his first two years on campus.

"He picked up on it fast and he comes out there and competes," Bell said.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban opened spring practice by saying it was a time for re-invention. When you lose 25 percent of your team each season, it has to be. Who would be this team's leaders? Who would be the ones to step up and set an example?

Then, in the next breath, the head coach of the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide spoke about three players trying their hands at new positions. Running back Dee Hart and wide receivers Christion Jones and Cyrus Jones are all playing cornerback this spring. And through three practices, they've done their best to pick up the new, yet somewhat familiar position.

Deion Belue, who started at cornerback opposite Dee Milliner last season, said the rookies on defense have played like naturals.

"Coming out of high school they were athletes, so it was a smooth transition," he said, "because they've played on defense before. It's not their first time."

Deion Belue
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireDeion Belue has been impressed at how three players who moved to cornerback have performed so far this spring.
But for the secondary as a whole, it might as well be starting from scratch. Milliner is gone, as is veteran safety Robert Lester. Even rising senior cornerback John Fulton is out for the spring as he recovers from surgery on his toe, leaving few experienced options for Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to work with. Thus the experiment with Hart and the Jones receivers. Belue isn't guaranteed anything after an up-and-down first season, and though rising sophomore Geno Smith played well down the stretch, he's not being handed anything. Competition, Belue said, is at a premium.

"It's the University of Alabama," Belue said matter of factly. "All we do is compete all year around. In the summer, spring -- it doesn't matter. If the spot is there, just put your best foot forward and we'll see who comes out with it."

Even rising junior safety Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix is battling for starter's reps. Though he started 10 of 14 games at free safety and finished strong with a standout performance against Notre Dame in the championship game, he's not considering himself a shoo-in. Clinton-Dix, Vinnie Sunseri, Nick Perry, Landon Collins and Jarrick Williams are competing for two spots.

"There's a lot of competition going on," Clinton-Dix said, adding that Hart, his former high school teammate, is coming along quickly and recovering well from back-to-back knee operations. "The safeties, the corners -- like I said, no one has a starting job. So everyone is out there competing, going after it, balls to the wall, so you never know who could step up and who could step down."

Collins is one player poised to rise up the depth chart. The former top-rated prospect in the 2012 signing class and the No. 1 safety in the country played primarily on special teams last season. But with Lester gone, he has his chance. So far, he's earned the praise of his teammates.

"Landon’s coming along very well," Clinton-Dix said. "He’s maturing a lot. He loves the playbook now. He’s competing.

"He’s fast, he's strong, he can break on the ball really well -- he has it all down pat."

Whether that will translate to game situations remains to be seen.

Said Saban: "It takes time. We're very patient with the players we have."

He'll have to be, with so many new and young faces. He's called the team a work in progress, and for a coach who specializes in the secondary, that's where it will start. Thankfully for him, he has the spring to get his affairs in order.

"We feel like we can make a lot of progress toward getting where we want to be by the end of the spring," Saban said. "Then being able to work on the things that they need to do over the summer so we have an opportunity to continue to progress in the fall."
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.

[+] EnlargeLandon Collins
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesFormer five-star recruit Landon Collins excelled on special teams as a freshman for the Crimson Tide, but his role is sure to expand in 2013.
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.

The Uncommitteds: Vonn Bell 

January, 30, 2013
Vonn BellMiller Safrit/ESPNESPN 150 defensive back Vonn Bell brings explosive ability that the Crimson Tide and his two other finalists, Ohio State and Tennessee, covet.
Editor's note: From now until signing day, TideNation will examine the remaining uncommitted prospects still considering the University of Alabama. Today, we look at ESPN 150 safety Vonn Bell.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- For talented safety Vonn Bell, Alabama is simply Alabama. The championships, the draft picks and the defense need no further explanation.

"Alabama speaks for itself," he said.

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The Uncommitteds: Antonio Conner 

January, 29, 2013
Editor's note: Leading up to signing day, TideNation will examine the remaining uncommitted prospects still considering the University of Alabama. Today, we look at ESPN 150 safety Antonio Conner.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Last year, the Crimson Tide pulled five-star safety Landon Collins out of Louisiana, away from the Bayou Bengals. This year, they’re trying to do the same thing in Mississippi, attempting to take ESPN 150 safety Antonio Conner away from Ole Miss.

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Editor's note: The season is over and the Alabama Crimson Tide are national champions yet again. But what happens next? TideNation examines the most pressing storylines of the offseason as the Tide gear up for another title defense.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The departing junior offered some insight. Dee Milliner, another in a long line of Alabama underclassmen to bolt for the NFL, knows a thing or two about being the man on deck. He played the part of understudy to Dre Kirkpatrick a year ago. Before that, Kirkpatrick was the heir to Javier Arenas. Year over year under coach Nick Saban, the factory of defensive backs has continued churning along without fail.

"You’ve got to be prepared and ready at any time," Milliner, a potential first-round pick in April's draft, said. "It’s just buying into what you’re supposed to do and trying to be your best. We always talk about that. You’re competing with yourself, because you’re competing to be the best within yourself. We try to do that each day we get on the field, and I think that plays a role in high draft picks each year."

Alabama will have a new crop of defensive backs to incorporate next season as both Milliner and safety Robert Lester step away to the NFL.

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Forecasting the Tide: Safety 

January, 3, 2013
Editor’s note: Every Tuesday and Thursday between now and national signing day, TideNation will review each position and look at who figures to start, who could rise up the depth chart and who might be on the way. Today we’ll look at the safeties.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's hard to imagine that Robert Lester came to Alabama in the same recruiting class as his high school teammate Julio Jones. Lester, now a fifth-year senior is about to compete in his final collegiate game while Jones is set to play in the Pro Bowl in his second season with the Atlanta Falcons.

The two friends took the same track but at vastly different speeds.

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Editor’s note: Each day between now and Alabama's date with Notre Dame in the BCS national championship, we will review the season for a key Crimson Tide player and attempt to project what’s next for him. Today we’ll look at safety Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix.

No. 6 Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix
30 tackles, four interceptions, seven passes defended

Role in 2012: Clinton-Dix started most games at free safety and shared time with Nick Perry at the position.

The good: The sophomore was a blip on the radar last season, a special teams contributor who found time in mop-up duty during games. This year, the former four-star prospect and No. 2-ranked safety in the Class of 2011 emerged in the Alabama secondary. His interception against Georgia in the SEC championship game tied him for the team lead with four.

The bad: The 6-foot-1, 209-pound native of Orlando showed some of the signs of inexperience in games. He was part of a secondary that looked lost against LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia. Most recently, Aaron Murray torched the Tide deep in the Georgia Dome.

Crystal ball: Give Clinton-Dix time to learn Nick Saban's complex system and the production will follow. Right now, he's the best cover safety Alabama has. His has the size, speed and athleticism to play the position at a high level. With Robert Lester moving on after this season, the most likely safety tandem will include Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins in 2013.


Alabama Dismisses Jonathan Taylor
Alex Scarborough discusses the Crimson Tide's decision to dismiss defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor after he was arrested on domestic violence charges in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.