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March 23, 2013

Alabama DBs take on bigger leadership role

TUSCALOOSA | A year ago, cornerback Deion Belue was the new face in the University of Alabama defensive backfield. Now, he and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who was relatively new to the secondary himself when the 2012 season began, are two of the unit's veterans.

As Alabama's spring practice enters a week-long hiatus for spring break, retooling a defensive backfield that lost a pair of key starters in Robert Lester and Dee Milliner is among the areas of focus for the Crimson Tide coaching staff.

Milliner, expected to be a top 10 first-round NFL Draft pick in April, was good enough in man to man coverage last season that opposing teams threw more to Belue's side of the field as the season wore on.

This fall, Belue can expect to be tested early as Milliner was. Whether his play deters opposing quarterbacks later in the season, however, is up to him.

"My role is just something that I have to do, and something that I'm comfortable with," Belue said. "It doesn't bother me, it doesn't add any more pressure or anything like that."

Belue, a senior who started in his first year in the program last year after transferring from junior college, said he is ready to help Alabama's younger cornerbacks, such as sophomore Geno Smith.

"It's my job to do that because I'm a senior now. It was like my first year when I came in with Dee Milliner and (Lester) to help me out," Belue said. "So then I feel like it's my job to do the same for the next person that's coming in to try to learn."

Clinton-Dix said one of the more difficult aspects of replacing Lester at safety will be communication in the defensive backfield.

"All of us have to communicate, from the corners to the safeties, safeties to the linebackers, we've got to come together as a team and communicate more," Clinton-Dix said.

Like Belue, Clinton-Dix is lending help to younger safeties. Sophomore Landon Collins and 28-year-old freshman Jai Miller, who is relearning the game after a 10-year pro baseball career, are looking to find their way into the playing rotation.

"He's catching on way faster than I did when I first got here," Clinton-Dix said of Miller. "He's catching on and learning very well and picking up and making a big improvement in the secondary."

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






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