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September 19, 2012TUSCALOOSA | With a pair of sophomores and a junior college transfer getting extensive playing time in the University of Alabama secondary, the first month of the 2012 season has been one of learning and adjusting for the Crimson Tide's younger defensive backs.
Statistically, Alabama's pass defense ranks 10th in the nation at 152.3 yards allowed per game. And with six interceptions through three games, UA is among the nation's leaders in that category as well. With Arkansas' Tyler Wilson sitting out a 52-0 loss to Alabama with a concussion Saturday, however, the Crimson Tide's toughest passing challenges still await on the schedule.
"We have a lot of improving to do in the secondary. I don't know that we've been challenged down the field with a real vertical passing game," said UA coach Nick Saban. "We gave up a few big plays in the firet game. We're going to see a lot better quarterbacks and a lot better skill guys down the road."
In terms of Southeastern Conference experience, junior college transfer cornerback Deion Belue got his first taste of it Saturday against the Razorbacks. Safeties Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix have limited experience as well, although Sunseri played more extensively near the end of the 2011 season. Sunseri credited the secondary's veterans -- fifth-year senior safety Robert Lester and junior cornerback Dee Milliner -- for their assistance with the younger players.
"We look up to Robert, and Dee, and having them back there is really helping us out, being able to make plays," Sunseri said. "We're just trying to do the best we can to contribute to this team."
Sunseri and Clinton-Dix have 16 tackles between then this season, and each made their first career interception Saturday at Arkansas. Clinton-Dix plays in nickel and dime sets for the Crimson Tide, and said he has learned a great deal in UA's wins over Michigan, Western Kentucky and Arkansas.
"I think we've been tested. We've played against good teams. The first three teams were pretty good. We just work hard in practice, and it shows during the game," Clinton-Dix said. "It hasn't been easy at all. It took practice during the week to get ready for those teams."
Also playing more of late has been junior Nick Perry, who has been a reserve until this season.
"Nick's been playing really well. He's a physical guy, he's smart, and I'm so excited he playing like he is," Sunseri added.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com or at 205-722-0196.