TN Roundtable: DB breakdown

Every other week, TideNation writers Alex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf will answer a handful of questions that address a pressing topic regarding the Alabama football program. And with every Roundtable, we'll seek out the opinions of a guest. This week's contributor is ESPN SEC blogger Chris Low.

Question: Do you expect a drop in production in this season’s secondary as compared to the last?

Alex Scarborough: By the end of the year, I believe the production will be there. That said, I think there will be some growing pains along the way with so many players adjusting to new roles. We’ll know just how good they are Week 1. Denard Robinson will test containment and the defensive backs’ ability to stay with receivers. If the UA secondary can weather a few early storms, it will be just fine.

Greg Ostendorf: This is the one unit that comes into 2012 with the most question marks. The talent is there, but it’s lacking the experience it had a year ago. When you lose three starters and two were selected in the first round of the NFL draft, you have to expect a drop off. There could be up to three players that see playing time who have never played a down for Alabama.

Chris Low: I’m not sure I expect a big drop off, but I do expect more mistakes and mental errors, especially early. In a lot of ways, it might be comparable to what we saw out of a talented but inexperienced secondary in 2010. I think they’ll give up some plays, but not because of talent -- because of uncharacteristic busts and a lot of issues you have when playing new guys. The other thing is you don’t have a guy back there like a Mark Barron who can make sure everybody is where they’re supposed to be and make all the right adjustments and checks.

How big was it that Robert Lester decided to return for his senior year?

A.S.: In a word: huge. The fact that Saban will be able to lean on Lester and Dee Milliner will be a big factor in the growth of the secondary. As Chris touched on about Barron, I believe leadership is vital in the secondary, especially at safety. I think Lester can grow into the anchor of the secondary and really shepherd along some of the more inexperienced guys.

G.O.: There’s no overstating how important Lester is to this group. In 2010, the secondary had one starter returning, and the youth clearly hurt at various points throughout the season. Lester is the lone starter returning now, and it’s important he doesn’t let what happened in 2010 repeat itself.

C.L.: It’s always a plus for any secondary when you have somebody like Lester who has played as much football as he has. He’s definitely not the player Barron was but this is his chance to show that he can be the kind of impactful leader. He was a good leader but it’s hard for me to call him a dynamic leader in the mold of a Barron or a Javier Arenas several years ago. That’s the thing about Alabama; they’ve always had tremendous leadership in their secondary in addition to great players.

Who do you expect to step up and surprise some people this season?

A.S.: We’re in for a breakout season from Vinnie Sunseri. We saw how capable he was in a backup role last season. With another year under his belt and more time to learn from Saban, he’ll flourish. He’s a playmaker with a nose for the ball. If he can stay on the field, good things will happen. Another person to watch is Dixon, who I feel was overshadowed by the spring Belue had. His size and speed will make for great matchups.

G.O.: Everybody talks about the newcomers, but keep an eye on Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix. He was one of the top safeties out of high school, and it’s amazing that he’s now overlooked. Based on what we saw at the spring game, it looks like he’s the front-runner to take over for Barron.

C.L.: I think Sunseri is going to be one of those guys that’s never going to just jump off the film, but he’s going to do so many little things right. He’s the kind of guy back there that you have to have; one of those guys that helps cover up mistakes because he’s always doing things right. The other guy I’d watch is Belue. He’s a bigger player that can match up. He’s cut from the same mold as De’Quan Menzie.

Just how good can this unit be?

A.S.: As I said earlier, how good they are depends on how they weather early storms. If the secondary can hold its own and gather its footing, watch out. The talent runs two and three deep at some positions. And remember, a lot depends on the front seven. If they can get to the quarterback, they’ll make the secondary look even better.

G.O.: It all depends on how fast the unit can grow up. There may not be a more talented group of defensive backs anywhere in the country, but they’re inexperienced. If it can overcome some early struggles, I expect this group to mature faster than the 2010 secondary did and wind up being a strength.

C.L.: If they get through some of the hiccups, talent wise I think they’ll be one of the top three or four secondaries in the league. Milliner, in talking with some pro guys, they think he has a great chance to be a first or second round draft choice. I think he will explode this year. I think he will emerge as one of the best cover guys in the league.