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September 15, 2012

Bama defense passes the test

TUSCALOOSA | Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a young player, but he looked more like a veteran with his 46-yard interception return that set up the University of Alabama for the knockout touchdown late in the first half of Saturday's 52-0 Crimson Tide win over Arkansas. Vinnie Sunseri is only a sophomore as well, but there he was, just two Arkansas series earlier, intercepting Brandon Allen to stop a Razorbacks drive that had entered Alabama territory.

This much we know about the Alabama defensive backfield: As inexperienced as it is, it's not yet come across a challenge it couldn't meet with 25 percent of the regular season now done. This secondary, preseason critics of the Crimson Tide warned, was where Alabama might be a little soft. Those critics will still rightly point out that Denard Robinson, Kawaun Jakes and Brandon Allen - the quarterbacks Alabama has faced this year - aren't great pure passers.

That the hardest test is yet to come.

And that's true, too.

Saturday was supposed to have been more of a challenge for this young group of defensive backs.

Arkansas coach John L. Smith teased the possibility of playing time for injured quarterback Tyler Wilson, who sat out with a concussion, until the last possible moment. Two days after refuting sourced media reports that Wilson would sit, Smith sent Wilson out for warm-ups in full uniform.

Wilson, you see, can make throws Robinson, Jakes and Allen can't.

But when Allen and Brandon Mitchell each took a snap on Arkansas' first two offensive plays, it was almost immediately clear Wilson would only be watching from the sideline.

Whatever youthful mistakes might be there for the exposing in the Alabama secondary, Wilson playing at home figured to be similar to the test a young 2010 Alabama secondary took against former Arkansas standout quarterback Ryan Mallett in the same stadium.

That was a test Mallett passed for three quarters before two late interceptions got the Crimson Tide's new cover men out of Fayetteville with their skins intact. The Brandon Allen-Brandon Mitchell combination Alabama faced Saturday wasn't nearly a Mallett-like threat from a pure passing standpoint.

But that doesn't mean there weren't some valuable new experiences and lessons learned Saturday in the Alabama defensive backfield.

It was a hostile SEC venue, for one thing, the first of the year.

That wasn't a problem.

Wet turf is perhaps a bigger concern for defensive backs than any position on the field, given the quick change of direction required. It's easier to run a pre-determined pass route on a wet field than it is to react to one without knowing what route is coming.

That wasn't a problem, either.

Trick plays? The Razorbacks had nothing to lose, after all, and wasted no time trying to burn Alabama with a double pass from Allen to Mitchell to Ronnie Wingo, Jr.

And Dee Milliner was there to break that up as well.

Six Alabama defensive backs saw significant playing time Saturday, including four safeties (Sunseri, Clinton-Dix, Robert Lester and Nick Perry). Perry, just a week after his second career start, recovered a fumble. Cornerback Deion Belue, making just his third SEC start, caused it.

If there was a weakness among them, Allen certainly could not find it. And as this Alabama secondary becomes increasingly more comfortable playing together, it will only get more difficult for anyone else to.

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.



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