TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Ali Sharrief isn’t the biggest or fastest contender to replace Alabama safety Rashad Johnson.
He has, however, benefited from spending the past two years watching Johnson direct the secondary and getting an idea of what it takes.
“He has great instincts,” Sharrief said.
“So I’m trying to build on my instincts and work at being as good as he was. I think that’s all of us safeties. We’re all trying to work toward that because with him not being here, we all have some very, very big shoes to fill.”
Sharrief is among a group trying to replace the departed All-America free safety, along with his 89 tackles and five interceptions from last season.
It won’t be quite the same position. Coach Nick Saban has dropped the free and strong safety designations, simplifying it to right safety and left safety.
Sharrief, Justin Woodall, Mark Barron and redshirt freshman Robby Green are among the contenders for the starting jobs.
“We have a lot of competition at that position,” Saban said.
“Mark Barron is competing, Ali is competing, we’re looking at Robby Green in there as the safety. We feel like all of those guys may develop into some role.”
Sharrief was a key reserve last season, recording 31 tackles and breaking up five passes. He finds motivation beyond just winning a starting job for the first time.
“I don’t want to let anybody down,” Sharrief said. “I don’t want to be the guy who makes (the secondary) not as good as last year. I’m not trying to be the slow guy.”
Saban, who often works with the defensive backs in practice, makes it plain that he could insert players at safety depending on situations and what personnel the offense has on the field.
That means multiple players sharing the roles Johnson held down.
“It may not be just one guy,” Saban said.
And the competition might not be resolved quickly. Johnson was both a leader and a playmaker on the field, after all.
“That’s a battle that will continue through the spring,” cornerback Javier Arenas said.
Like Johnson, Sharrief was a high school running back. He’s also hoping to attain Johnson’s mastery of the playbook.
“(Johnson) knew the playbook inside and out,” Sharrief said.
Notes: Alabama held its ninth practice of the spring Saturday afternoon. The work out was in full pads. The Tide will take today off before returning Monday.
… “A-Day is two weeks from today,” Saban said. “I want to emphasize the importance of the very strong support and the attendance that we have had at A-Day.
“It has been a real positive show of support for the program and the institution. It’s had a tremendous impact on recruiting. I think from an image standpoint, with this year’s game on ESPN, it would give us tremendous national exposure.”
… Senior offensive lineman Mike Johnson suffered a sprained ankle in Friday’s practice and was held out Saturday along with sophomore tailback Mark Ingram, who injured his hamstring on Monday.