Prior to last week, Landon Collins would have told you he can play four positions on the Alabama defense. But after last Saturday’s game against Georgia State, the sophomore is up to five.
The added workload is nothing new for Collins. In addition to free safety, where he played Saturday in place of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, he has played cornerback, “Star,” “Money” and strong safety on the Alabama defense. Collins made his career start at a position he had never once played.
“I was not expecting this at all,” Collins said. “I look forward to strong [safety] because that’s what I’m used to and getting that start at free safety – I’m just taking it and running with it.”
With the announcement that Clinton-Dix would be indefinitely suspended for a violation of team rules and policy last week and backup senior Nick Perry out for the season with a shoulder injury, Collins was the next man in line to fill the void.
Though he is listed as a strong safety, Collins made the most of his opportunity, helping limit the Georgia State offense to just 160 yards and 12 of 22 passing.
With a return date for Clinton-Dix uncertain, Collins now faces the task of starting at the unfamiliar position for the foreseeable future as the Crimson Tide enters into the meat of its SEC schedule. But those familiar with Collins’ play are not worried about his transition to learning yet another position.
“Landon was not what you would call silly,” said Dutchtown High School football coach Benny Saia, who coached Collins in high school. “He was kind of a business-like kid. Maybe a little more mature than some of the other kids that we have. He wanted to win, and he wanted to be the best, and he worked at it.”
A consensus five-star recruit from Geismar, La., Collins caught Saia’s attention quickly.
“He looked like a junior when he walked up to me as a freshman,” Saia said.
At Dutchtown, Collins quickly made his presence known. As a freshman, he saw an extensive amount of playing time from the beginning on a team that included a senior named Eric Reid, current starter for the San Francisco 49ers, manning one of the two safety positions.
When Reid graduated, Collins’ workload increased even more. During his junior and senior seasons, Collins was a first-team All-State selection as a strong safety by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. In his senior year, Collins became the first player in Louisiana history to earn 5A All-State honors on both sides of the ball as both a strong safety and running back.
So when Saia sees Collins displaying versatility at a number of different positions for Alabama, he said it comes as no surprise to him.
“I thought he could play anywhere he wanted to play, to be honest with you. He could do whatever he wanted to do,” Saia said. “He was a playmaker. For us, obviously, the best guy on the field by far.”
But despite his flexibility and current role as a starter on the Crimson Tide defense, this is not the first significant time Collins has seen the field during his short career at Alabama.
In addition to spot duty in the Alabama secondary, Collins has played a crucial role on special teams, with head coach Nick Saban going as far as to describe Collins as a demon on special teams.
As a true freshman last season, Collins made an appearance in all 14 games, recording 17 tackles and a blocked punt. His 10 special teams tackles tied for the team lead.
This season, he has been even better. Collins has continued to be a force on special teams, where he is routinely the first player down field on both punt and kickoff coverage. In the season opener against Virginia Tech, he totaled five special teams tackles.
JC Shurburtt, national recruiting director for 247Sports, is among many who have taken notice of Collins’ play in the times he has been on the field.
“I really admire the way he played special teams,” Shurburtt said. “Here’s a kid, who was a five-star guy, coming in there and blocking punts, things like that. Guys that can excel in that part of the game, in my opinion, have a low-bust factor because they love to go play. They embrace all aspects of football, and I think Landon definitely does that.”
On defense, Collins leads the team with three pass breakups and is third in tackles with 21 this season, all while playing primarily in a part-time role. Shurburtt said he sees a lot of promise in Collins because at 6 feet and 215 pounds, he is among the largest defensive backs and hardest hitters on Alabama’s roster.
“I think he’s physical, obviously. I like that about him, always have,” Shurburtt said. “There’s a lot of great athletes to play defensive back. There’s not a lot of defensive backs that will stick their nose in there and hit somebody, and Landon never has had a problem with that.”
But while his responsibilities on the team grow, it’s still business as usual for Collins as he heads into his second game as a starter against Kentucky Saturday. He said he still loves playing special teams and continues to seek daily help from Clinton-Dix to adjust to his current position.
“I just do whatever I do to help my team,” Collins said. “That’s all I’m here for to do.”