When Alabama free safety HaHa Clinton-Dix was suspended earlier this month, the Crimson Tide turned to Landon Collins.
When Alabama strong safety Vinnie Sunseri suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week's win over Arkansas, the Tide turned to Collins again.
Collins began this season as Sunseri's backup but moved to free safety for two games to replace Clinton-Dix before returning to strong safety after Sunseri went down. It's been a busy time for the touted 6-foot, 215-pound sophomore, but Alabama coach Nick Saban has no doubts that Collins is better off for it.
"Now that he's going back to strong safety, I think he has a much better understanding," Saban said Wednesday. "The fact the free safety plays in a deep part of the field more probably helped him improve some as a player, so I think there were a lot of benefits to it. You don't really like to do that to players during the season where they can't stay in positions and develop continuity, but he certainly did a great job for the team in doing what he did, and it worked out well for us."
Alabama has been suffocating defensively and especially against the pass heading into Saturday's game against visiting Tennessee, holding Kentucky to 76 aerial yards and Arkansas to 91. The Crimson Tide survived Texas A&M's 628 total yards in their 49-42 escape of the Aggies on Sept. 14, and they have spent the weeks since reclaiming their status among the defensive elite.
The Crimson Tide lead the nation in scoring defense (allowing 9.7 points per game) and are fifth in total defense (allowing 275.0 yards a game). They are fourth in first downs allowed (100), eighth in run defense (98.3) and ninth in pass defense (176.7).
Collins enjoyed his stint at free safety, but he prefers strong safety.
"For me, it's a much easier position to learn," he told reporters Monday. "I had been playing strong safety the whole season, and when I went back to strong this last game, it just felt more comfortable. I play much better there, and I think it's easier for me.
"I like the feeling of coming up into the box and playing the run more, and that's what a strong safety does."
Collins was a Parade and USA Today All-American at Dutchtown High in Geismar, La., and he was the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2012 class according to 247sports.com. He had an interception in the nationally televised Under Armour All-American Game but gained far more attention when he committed to Alabama against the wishes of his mother, who wanted him to attend LSU.
As a true freshman last season, Collins tallied 17 tackles, with 10 of those occurring on special teams, which tied for the team high. He also blocked a punt against Missouri.
Through seven games this year, Collins has 28 tackles, one tackle for loss, five breakups, five pass deflections, two quarterback hurries and the added experience of playing both safety spots.
"I think it has prepared me well and got me to settle down and got me to see how fast games really are," Collins told reporters. "Once you slow down and catch your breath and look at the formations, you'll be all right."
Collins assisted on two tackles during last season's 44-13 win at Tennessee. He did not know much about the tradition involving the Crimson Tide and Volunteers but learned when cigars were distributed in Neyland Stadium's visiting locker room.
"I didn't even know we smoked cigars at the end of the game," Collins said. "We won, and I saw that there was a big rivalry between the two. After the game, I was like 'What is this?' What am I supposed to do with this?' I just kept it as a souvenir."
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