Tide turns to Collins again with injured Sunseri officially done for season
Just when it appeared the Alabama defense was rounding back into form with the return of free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from a two-game suspension on Saturday, starting strong safety Vinnie Sunseri goes down. This time it’s due to injury. And this time it’s for the remainder of the season.
Sunseri, who had already recorded two pick sixes this season, suffered a knee injury in the first quarter of Alabama’s 52-0 rout of Arkansas Saturday. He’ll have surgery Tuesday to repair ligament damage in the knee and will spend the rest of the season as a sideline observer.
“Vinnie’s done a great job for us,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said Monday. “He’s an outstanding player. He’s a really good person, good leader. I can’t say enough about the job he’s done throughout this year and his career … but this will provide an opportunity for other guys to step up and play well.”
Landon Collins, who had been filling in at free safety for the suspended Clinton-Dix the past couple of weeks, will now fill in at strong safety for the injured Sunseri with Jarrick Williams serving as Collins‘ backup.
Although Collins, a sophomore, is less experienced than both Clinton-Dix and Sunseri, the former five-star recruit and No. 1 safety prospect coming out of high school is no slouch. Collins had already been making a name for himself this season as a one-man wrecking crew on special teams before seeing more time on defense in recent weeks. And he’s been making the most of his expanded role. Through seven games this season, Collins ranks third on the team in total tackles with 28. Only C.J. Mosley (58) and Clinton-Dix (29) have more.
“Landon’s been a very good player for us in whatever role that we’ve asked him to play,” Saban said. “He’s played money, he’s played some free safety, he’s played strong safety. Strong safety is his natural position. When we had all our players, he was Vinnie’s backup, so that’s where he got the majority of his reps.”
Even though Collins has plenty of upside as a young, up-and-coming defensive star, the loss of Sunseri will still have a trickle-down affect on the Tide defense. With as complex as Alabama’s D is and with the number of players it uses in its different rotations and defensive alignments it can’t help but affect it.
“I think when we’re in nickel we’re OK because Jarrick is a star,” Saban said. “When we go to dime then Geno (Smith) has to come in and Jarrick has to play money. So that makes more changes from that standpoint. You lose the continuity of the reps with nickel and dime when you move guys all around to different positions. That’s not something we want to do if we can help. We had to do it in last week’s game but at least we have the opportunity to prepare the guys in the positions they’re going to play this week.”
Smith, who played corner last season before making the switch to safety this year, continues to make strides. He’s played in six of Alabama’s seven games this season and has registered six tackles, two pass breakups and two passes defended.
“Geno’s done a good job,” Saban said. “He’s played multiple roles. He plays star, and we’re trying to develop him as a safety. I think he’s learning and progressing every week … I think there’s a lot to learn, especially during the course of the season when every week you play a team that involves a different set of circumstances.
“Geno’s a bright guy. He’s worked hard at it. And he’s done a good job.”
More defensive shuffling may be required this Saturday if defensive back Bradley Sylve can’t go. The sophomore is considered day-to-day, according to Saban, after suffering a high ankle sprain Saturday. Reserve running back Altee Tenpenny is also day-to-day after suffering a turf toe injury against Arkansas.
“We will not know until later in the week whether they’ll be able to play in (Saturday’s game),” Saban said of Sylve and Tenpenny.
Saban said Ryan Kelly, Alabama’s starting center at the start of the season who went down with injury against Ole Miss on Sept. 28, will be full-go this week. The sophomore was available last Saturday for the first time since the injury but did not start. Junior Chad Lindsay stepped in for Kelly when he got injured and has performed well in his absence.
“We’ll see how he progresses through the course of the week,” Saban said of Kelly. “We have a lot of confidence in both of those players.”
The top-ranked Tide (7-0 overall, 4-0 in SEC) will host surging Tennessee (4-3, 1-2) Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium with kickoff set for 2:30 p.m. CDT. CBS will televise the game. The Volunteers are coming off a 23-21 upset of No. 11 South Carolina last Saturday and nearly upset then-No. 6 Georgia a couple weeks before that, losing 34-31 in overtime. Tennessee had a bye in between its last two games.
About The Author
Leave a Comment
You must be logged in to post a comment.