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Alabama Football Recruiting 2014: Previewing the Safeties

A look at the upcoming safety recruits for the 2015 class

Safety [seyf-tee]: the state of being safe; freedom from the occurrence or risk of injury, danger, or loss

Freedom from the risk of loss. I like the sound of that. In the wonderful sport of football, anywhere from one to three men (which conveniently averages to two) hold the position of safety.

Their job? Be the last line of defense in keeping the other team from scoring, whether that involves covering for a cornerback who got himself beat deep, or making a touchdown saving tackle on a running back that broke loose down the sideline. Ideally, a perfect safety allows the rest of the defense to play more aggressively and take more chances, as they know that the safety is covering their backs

Now, every team uses their safeties differently. Some use the free safety and strong safety distinctions in cover-1 or cover-3 schemes, where the free safety plays deep centerfield, and the strong safety typically roams around making plays just behind the line of scrimmage. In this style, the prototypical FS is rangier and faster, with the ability to play sideline to sideline, and the SS is bigger and an imposing tackler, helping with run support and short routes.

Others run variants of the Tampa 2, which is where both safeties are similar players, and cover their respective sides of the field, sharing both deep and run stopping responsibilities.

Nick Saban (much to my frustration when trying to write about him) has run both styles fairly often over the past few years. Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri were a perfect example of the first style, while Mark Barron and Robert Lester embodied the second. Through the first two games of 2014, Landon Collins and Nick Perry/Geno Smith have played more of a Tampa 2 scheme, with limited success.


A Look Ahead to 2015

I will be blunt: Alabama is about as deep at safety as my knowledge of women. Our top player, Landon Collins will likely jump to the NFL. Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams will graduate. So who's left? There are seniors Geno Smith and Jabriel Washington,  who are both converted cornerbacks. And there will also be the two second year behemoth safeties, Hootie Jones and Ronnie Clark.

Neither of the former instill any confidence in me (and will also be gone after 2015), and the latter two are still true freshmen this year. That, my friends, is not what I like to call depth.

Fortunately, there's this little thing called recruiting where talented high school players enter the university to try and bolster this depth.

The Next Wave of Safeties

Nick Saban, however, is a smart man. He didn't have to see me write an article to know where his team needs new talent. So, he went out and got three commitments from three talented safeties for next year: (and if you missed it, here is a link back to my previous article explaining what the SPARQ and Z-Score numbers mean)

Last Name First Name Position State Stars National Rank Position Rank Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Shuttle Vertical Jump Power Throw SPARQ Z-Score
Harrison Ronnie S FL 4 206 13 6020 192 4.86 4.72 33.6 33.0 72.33 0.05
Thompson Deionte S TX 4 40 2 6010 174 4.77 3.98 35.8 37.0 107.40 1.39
Burgess-Becker Shawn ATH FL 4 118 8 6000 185

*The chart does not quite fit all the way on the page, so you have to scroll to the side a little with the mouse over the chart. Sorry for the inconvenience to the lazy*

Shawn Burgess-Becker

Burgess-Becker, unfortunately, injured his knee and has been mostly sidelined through all the spring and summer football events. Outside of his his height and weight, he has no pure measureables for me to look at. The 8th-ranked athlete is primarily a safety, but also took on receiving and running roles in 2013, and did so with flying colors.

What stands out to me is how he seems to thrive on physicality. Burgess-Becker is a powerful tackler, and shows no sympathy towards any hapless receiver attempting to make a catch... 

He also uses that physicality to his advantage when playing receiver, showing multiple instances of bodying out a defender, attacking, and effectively high-pointing a jump ball in the air. His team often brought him in near the goal line for a fade to the back corner, and he ended up with 5 touchdowns on only 20 catches last year.

As a deep safety, he shows the ability to range from sideline to sideline as a ball hawk. Here, he diagnoses a trick play (a little late, albeit), and explodes seemingly from nowhere to prevent the touchdown pass:


Impressive, no?

His style of play and movement on the field kind of reminds me of former Alabama safety Justin Woodall, though not quite as big yet. I can see Burgess-Becker most naturally playing a strong safety position, but with the versatility to also play a deep cover safety.

Ronnie Harrison

Harrison is an intriguing prospect. Standing at over 6'2" and a muscular 200 pounds, he has a physically imposing presence in the defensive backfield. A full time quarterback for his high school, Harrison also plays more outside cornerback than safety. Harrison's coach, Jarrod Hickman raves about his instincts and leadership over any other attribute. To the eye test, this seems true, and Harrison looks to be a high football-IQ, technical player.

Here he displays perfect technique in press coverage, sending a palm jab into the chest of the receiver to re-route him, not grabbing, and dropping the press before reaching five yards.

He also displays his long arms and the knowledge to turn and time his jump to break up deep balls frequently. (Ya know, so hopefully no more flashbacks of Brad Sylve)

However, almost any big corner comes with an inherent weakness: stiffness and sub-par change of direction ability. Harrison is no exception to this. Even in his highlight video, he looks stiff. This observation is backed up by his testing results. A 4.86 forty yard dash is not very impressive for a defensive back, and a 4.72 shuttle is awful. His SPARQ score is 72.33, which puts him only 0.05 standard deviations above the average athleticism of all collegiate defensive backs.

Because of his size (and lack of speed) all of the recruiting sites project Harrison as either a safety or a linebacker. While he does have the tackling ability to do that, I don't see him having the range to play safety. But I could easily see him being an impact boundary corner in a press-man scheme, and could provide very solid run support on the outside. I would compare his game to current New England Patriots cornerback, Brandon Browner. A lengthy, physically imposing corner that sometimes struggles with smaller, quicker receivers.

Deionte Thompson

Finally, we get to Deionte Thompson. One of the highest rated members of our class, Thompson was recently awarded a 5th star by A true free safety, Thompson is a rangy ballhawk. He is aggressive in jumping routes, and shows great ball skill and anticipation, grabbing eleven interceptions, two for touchdowns, over the last two seasons.


Here Thompson shows off his deceptive explosiveness and jumps the deep route after the corner falls for the fake bubble screen. Although he did not test that well in his forty-yard dash, running a pedestrian 4.77, his explosive acceleration is evidenced by the sub- 4 second shuttle. His elite shuttle time and impressive vertical jump and powerball numbers give him a SPARQ score of 107.40, which translates to a 1.39 Z-score, putting him in the top 8.23% of all athletes (or more athletic than 91.77 percent of all players, whichever way you want to look at that).

He also is a tantalizing prospect at wide receiver, showing deceptive speed to get behind defenders. His running style and movement actually reminds me of a taller DeAndrew White coming out of high school.

Thompson is an explosive playmaker with really impressive ball skills, and has potential to be turnover machine and game changer at the next level. He reminds me a lot of a young Ha Ha Clinton Dix.

Speaking of, Ha-Ha is impressed with him, so what more can we ask for?

Clinton-Dix impressed by Deionte Thompson
Got a chance to see BAMA commit @playmaker_11 battle in 1 on 1 drills on both sides of the ball @Earl_Thomas camp and man he is good.

Wrapping Up

With three already committed, Saban is unlikely to take another safety for the next class. This trio is likely who we will be seeing on Saturdays holding the back wall of the defense for a few more years, paired with the recent enrollees, Hootie Jones and Ronnie Clark. All three of them bring very different play styles to the table, and Saban will adapt his scheme to maximize their specific talents. My only concern is if they can learn to play college ball fast enough to replace the rapidly depleting depth at their position?

Let me know what you think about the safeties in the comments, and also if you have a preference for which position I should look at next!