TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- In a secondary with many moving parts, Alabama safety Landon Collins is the one constant.
At the start of last season, Collins was behind HaHa Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri. He was a special teams standout and situational defensive back. But that all changed when Clinton-Dix's suspension forced him into a starting role and Sunseri's season-ending knee injury made Collins an even more vital piece to the Crimson Tide's defense.
Now, Collins is the Tide's best safety and one of its top returning stars on defense.
"He's gotten stronger, faster and has more knowledge of the defense," Tide safety Nick Perry said. "At times last year, he wasn't really sure of himself. But now he's fully confident and I think you'll see a different Landon Collins this season."
Collins earned his first chance to start when Clinton-Dix was suspended for two games. That opportunity came at free safety, a spot he had never played. But just as Clinton-Dix was set to return, Sunseri went down, which moved Collins back to his natural strong safety position.
As a sophomore in 2013, Collins played in all 13 games and made nine starts. He finished second on the team with 70 tackles, including four for loss. He intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown. He also had two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a team-high eight pass deflections.
Now, coming into this spring, Collins said he was a bit "overwhelmed" by the added responsibility. But he also said his offseason has been "great."
Among other things, Collins said he worked on his footwork and eye discipline to prepare him for this moment. But with all the responsibility he'll have on the field, his biggest challenge may have very little to do with his play.
While he may have deferred to others in the past, Collins is expected to take on more of a leadership role going forward.
Clinton-Dix and Sunseri made the adjustments for the secondary last season. That duty likely goes to Collins' this season.
"Just to be the back end of the secondary," Collins said. "The leader back there, and make all the right calls, and get all the people in the right positions to make their plays."
The first step of taking control of his new role is becoming completely comfortable with the defensive schemes, which Collins said he is.
Tide coach Nick Saban said Collins has "really done a good job this spring" working to take that next step to become a more complete player.
"All players have things that they can work on to improve, and Landon's certainly a guy that is a great competitor and really works hard everyday to try to improve and has a really good attitude about it," Saban said. "I think he's trying to affect other people, be a leader set a good example, encourage others to do things the way they need to do it.
"With Landon to me, when he understands what he's supposed to do, he really plays fast and is effective. I think the more knowledge and experience that he gets, the more consistently he'll be able to play that way, and that's certainly our goal for him this spring."