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March 24, 2012TUSCALOOSA | Robert Lester isn't worried about the inexperience in the University of Alabama secondary, but if the defensive backs surrounding him have any concerns, the fifth-year senior is there for them.
Lester enters his final season at the Capstone as the most experienced player UA has in the secondary, but he's been where the others are now. After his first two years on campus, Lester had little more than a redshirt and some special teams action to show for his career. Now, however, he's entering his third year as a starter.
"Since I'm one of the only ones who came back - DeMarcus (Milliner) came back - I just want everybody to be on the same page," Lester said. "I'm going to do whatever it takes, that if they don't know what's going on, look back at me, and I'll give you the call."
Lester made 39 tackles last season, sixth on the team, with a pair of interceptions amid a group of defensive backs that had each had at least a year of starting experience. This spring, competition is everywhere around him. Vinnie Sunseri, Nick Perry and Hasean Clinton-Dix are among the candidates to replace Mark Barron at safety, and Milliner is UA's only returning cornerback with significant experience. That position has added two junior college transfers in Deion Belue and Travell Dixon.
"They are athletes and coach Saban trusted they could come in and play," Lester said. "If he trusted they can, we will too. We're going to do whatever we can do to encourage them, motivate them, let them know they can play here, and hopefully they can get on the right track."
UA receiver Kevin Norwood said he has been impressed with the newcomers at cornerback.
"The new guys are really good, the ones who just came in, but they've got to learn coach Saban's system," Norwood said. "They've got good size and they're physical."
Lester said forcing more turnovers has been an emphasis in practice this spring, just as it was a year ago.
"I think we caused about two fumbles the whole season last year. We have to get our hat on the ball and strip it," Lester said. "We're working on it in practice a lot and getting better at it."
Holtz holds court
Former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, now a studio analyst for ESPN's college football coverage, headlined speakers at the Nick Saban Coaches Clinic Saturday night. Holtz said he has been impressed with the high standards to which the UA defense holds itself.
"I love being around (Saban), but he's a greedy sucker," Holtz told assembled reporters. "Some people get you first-and-10, second-and-12,
third-and-9 and they're content at fourth-and-5. Not Nick. He wants it first-and-10, second-and-12, third-and 14, fourth-and-19. He wants to move you back, he doesn't want to give you a yard."
Alabama had the nation's top-rated defense last season, and Holtz noted UA allowed only nine touchdowns on the year. Holtz said he picked Alabama to win the BCS title game against LSU, but did not expect the UA defense to perform as well as it did.
"In no way did I expect them to dominate the game the way they did defensively," Holtz said. "It was a complete mismatch."
"He's a very smart guy. He knows the playbook and he's a guy who's willing to go out there and compete to earn a position, and that's what he's doing." - Lester on Sunseri.
The Nick Saban Coaches Clinic continued Saturday with hundreds of prep coaches on hand for practice, though the crowd was thinner than it was Friday. ... Running bacls Eddie Lacy and Blake Sims were unavailable again while recovering from injuries, as was backup offensive lineman Arie Kouandjio, who is recovering from a knee procedure. ... Saturday's practice was the fifth of 15 this spring, and the third in full pads. UA resumes practice Monday afternoon.
Reach Chase Goodbread at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0196.