He played defense under Nick Saban in college and really, nothing else is going to prepare a player for the transition to the NFL as much as playing under the one of the best coaches in college.
This is part of the thinking for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the now-former Alabama safety who visited with the Detroit Lions on Monday, the first recorded visit of any college player in this cycle. Considering the need-based focus at safety for the Lions, bringing in Clinton-Dix for a long look makes complete sense.
He is one of the top two safeties in the draft along with Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and as of Monday, Detroit is still in need of a starting safety to pair with Glover Quin after releasing Louis Delmas last month. While the Lions are likely to also sign a veteran -- former Baltimore safety James Ihedigbo was in for a visit last week -- it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team look at a defensive back early as well.
“I feel like I’m prepared for the next level,” Clinton-Dix said at the NFL combine last month. “I’m a fast learner. I play fast. I study a lot of film. I study the opponent a lot.
“And that’s about it. I fly around.”
That is Clinton-Dix’s verbal pitch and his film and statistics would back that up. Clinton-Dix, the No. 16 overall player by ESPN.com and the No. 2 safety, had 52 tackles last season and defended six passes -- breaking up four and intercepting two. His ability in coverage could be an asset to the Lions, who would ideally like to keep Quin as a safety they can bring down into the box to give run and short-pass support.
If the 6-foot-1 3/8, 208-pound Clinton-Dix can play free safety and excel at it early, that would be a benefit for a Detroit defense that struggled in coverage last season. Part of the reason came from the defensive line not reaching opposing quarterbacks fast enough, but the other part came from the Lions’ corners and safeties not being strong enough in coverage.
Clinton-Dix did both at Alabama. As a sophomore, he became the Crimson Tide’s last defender back, expected to help in coverage and make big tackles. Last season, he played down more, helping in run support. His height also fits the mold of what the Lions are looking for in their defensive backs. He said at the combine it took him most of his freshman year to pick up Saban’s system and that allowed him to play deep as a sophomore and down low as a junior.
It also made him potentially ready for the NFL from the beginning of his rookie year, an intriguing proposition for the Lions if he is still around at No. 10.
“I feel like a lot of teams use the pro-style offense in college,” Clinton-Dix said at the combine. “Like I said, playing for Coach Saban’s defense, we did a lot of things. We played nickel, dime, Cover 2 situations.
“We played a lot of different defenses.”
That’s something he’ll have to understand in the pros, wherever he ends up playing.