Editor: Everyone please welcome Uptown Murf, who comes the way of SBN's Falcoholic, to the site as a guest writer for us. Murf was a featured columnist for Bleacher Report and is currently on staff at the aforementioned Falcoholic. Our hopes is that he'll be joining the staff come football season, providing the type of in-depth coverage of the Crimson Tide you've all come to know and expect from Roll 'Bama Roll. So please welcome him with open arms and a Roll Tide.- Bammer
Alabama junior safety Landon Collins has some lofty shoes to fill for the Crimson Tide. Since head coach Nick Saban has taken over, a plethora of extraordinary, talented personnel has been littered throughout the back end of the defense. After all, when your team is coached by perhaps one of the greatest defensive minds in football history, with defensive back background, what else would you expect?
Most are unaware of the type of pressure placed on DBs in a muti-faceted, NFL-style defense like the one Bama has continually trotted out on an annual basis. In regard to safeties, the last line of defense in theory only, duties include: being able to operate like a corner in zone, press- or off-man coverage, possessing the ability to tackle in space like a seasoned linebacker and being able to decipher schemes on the fly in everything from Cover 1 to Cover 0 manufactured pressure schemes.
If you're a talented high school defensive back, having your college career spent at "The Capstone" should be your primary focus. Names like: Rashad Johnson (Arizona Cardinals), Mark Barron (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Robert Lester (Carolina Panthers), Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix have roamed the defensive backfield. But could the best be yet to come in the form of highly touted Collins?
Now while it may be a tall order for anyone to be better than what Barron and Clinton-Dix were, Collins certainly has a chance.
Diverse Skill Set
These days, if you're not fortunate to hold a starting spot in the rotation you have more than likely spent time at either the "Star" or "Money" positions in Bama's sub packages. In Saban's defense these spots go beyond the traditional nickel and dime back role. Due to the multiplicity of the defense, and the vastness of the manufactured pressure game, these roles can be described as a cross between a corner, safety and a linebacker.
With Bama once using a player like Milliner in this role—who looks to be on his way to stardom as an outside corner in the NFL—in addition to someone like Sunseri (a former high school linebacker) you can see the difference in skill sets it takes to play these roles. Collins first cut his teeth in this role before becoming more of a traditional safety.
Playing closer to the line of scrimmage in the Star position allowed him to show off his innate ability to tackle in space. As a former safety myself, I have respect for anyone that has the ability to size up a back or receiver in space and "seal the deal," as one of my former coaches used to preach.
Tackling a ball-carrier in space, as opposed to being afforded the benefit of operating in the muddy waters known as "the box," is tricky because players have what is called a "two way go."
Often times when you tackle in traffic the ball-carrier has just one lane to manage due to the plethora of bodies; Collins excels in both traffic and space.
Here Collins breaks down, centers up and makes a form tackle on LSU running back Terrence McGee—actually tackling him for a loss. A lot of DBs, or football players in general, usually launch themselves at targets instead of applying the stick-and-wrap technique that we were all taught back in Pop Warner. Collins is one of the rare players who routinely brings proper technique when he tackles.
You also want a DB to be able to shed blocks as many schemes are designed to get blockers on the second and third levels. In certain cases, depending on the scheme, safeties may have to take on kick-out blocks to allow others to make plays. In that case you want a safety to be adept at using the stack-and-shed technique.
Here we see Collins' ability to operate in space.
Collins has great dexterity and it's none more apparent than here. The ability to stay on your feet is a lost art in football. Far too many defenders are the victim of cut blocks designed at getting defenders to the ground.
He regroups and then re-positions himself to properly square up. Notice the great balance with his body only slightly out over his feet—in what's referred to as "getting your skis out under you."
He then makes the open-field tackle thus limiting the gain on the well-designed play.
Due to a suspension to the all-world free safety Clinton-Dix, and a subsequent injury to the underrated strong safety Sunseri, Collins was afforded the chance to moonlight at both primary safety spots. While many pundits say that Collins' natural position is at strong safety, which is true, he has all the necessary tools to succeed at the free safety spot as well—especially in the pros.
Many pro schemes these days require interchangeable safeties that have enough range to maneuver in a deep quadrant, possess adequate enough skills to cover receivers and tight ends as well as affect the game at or behind the line of scrimmage. Bama DBs are run through the car wash with Saban, so many come out with these skills readily developed.
Collins is no different.
He has the range to play free safety in certain schemes in the NFL and would do well as a full-time free safety in college. Although leaving him out in space wouldn't play to his strengths, his weaknesses aren't as bad as some may believe.
Here we see Collins with a nice pass breakup against Arkansas. Notice how he's able to read the ball in flight, track it and still have the wherewithal to knock the ball out of the hands of the receiver. At 6'0", 215 pounds, this Louisiana native has the physicality to separate souls from carcasses. But he also has the finesse skills to make plays on the ball.
Here's another shining example of being able to read the quarterback's eyes in space. This interception turned what looked to be a potential touchdown for the opposition, into an 89-yard, pick-6 for the defense. And yes that's normal game speed...he's that fast (lol)!
Fans should expect momentum-changing plays like this from Collin in his junior season. He has played the "Star", free and strong safety positions—now he gets a full offseason, and regular season, to settle into the strong safety position as the unquestioned best player in the secondary—maybe on the entire defense.
Collins received a lot of hype following a stellar high school career and so far has lived up to his billing, in my opinion. Look for him to be the standout player on a National Championship squad cementing that notion. He has a skill set that's very similar to former Texas Longhorn standout, and current New Orleans Saints safety, Kenny Vaccaro—in regard to versatility.
While it remains to be seen if he can be the very best safety of the Saban era, one thing is for sure; if he does falls short it certainly won't be from a lack of skills.