SEC: Jai Miller

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri isn't without good advice to rely upon.

His father, Sal, has been an assistant coach in the NFL and in college for nearly three decades. His brother, Tino, was a quarterback at Pittsburgh before joining the Canadian Football League in 2013. And his coach, Nick Saban, has guided countless players to the pros and understands the draft process as well as anyone could.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel and Vinnie Sunseri
Phil Ellsworth / ESPN ImagesAlabama safety Vinnie Sunseri had two interceptions this season before tearing his ACL against Arkansas.
But that's all a way of illustrating how surprising it is that Sunseri would do the unthinkable and forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft, while still recovering from major knee surgery and without any promise of being drafted.

So what was the hurry?

Sunseri has always been one to fly to the ball with reckless abandon. It's what made him a star on special teams as a freshman and a key contributor in the defensive secondary as a sophomore and junior. Before going down with a torn ACL against Arkansas this season, he had two interceptions, both of which he returned for touchdowns. ESPN thought enough to vote him a Midseason All-American.

Maybe that instinct to attack and make something happen is at play here. We all know the draft is a gamble -- go early and you risk it, go late and you risk it just the same -- so Sunseri opting to roll the dice might not be out of character. If he thinks he should strike while the iron is hottest, then best of luck. He's a limited player athletically and sometimes struggles in coverage, but he's as hard a worker as they come and has a nose for the football.

From Alabama's perspective, though, the move is troubling.

The most immediate question -- "Are you running from Tuscaloosa or toward the NFL?" -- isn't readily answered. With so much up in the air this offseason, from coaching staff changes to other underclassmen turning pro, could it have influenced his decision?

Sunseri was the heartbeat of the secondary, its most vocal leader and its best playmaker. He would have been one of the centerpieces of the defense next season. He and Landon Collins playing side by side at safety would have been a good starting point for defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to build around. Mixing in veterans Jarrick Williams and Nick Perry would have been plenty to work with, helping relieve some of the pressure off of Alabama's young set of cornerbacks.

Now Alabama is left with more questions than answers. Losing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at free safety was hard enough. Sunseri vacating his spot at strong safety only makes matters worse. Collins showed he's an immensely talented player this season, finishing second in tackles and first in passes defended, but he's still raw. We saw that in a few key missteps against Auburn to end the regular season and then again against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. Granted, Collins will improve, but Alabama will need another player or two to step up and fill Sunseri's shoes.

The silver lining for Saban is he's not without talented players to call upon. Former four-star corner Geno Smith made the transition to safety this past season and former professional baseball player Jai Miller should be better prepared after a season of re-acclimating to the game. Welcoming in two early enrollee defensive backs -- five-star cornerback Tony Brown and No. 2-rated safety Laurence "Hootie" Jones -- will help in terms of depth, too.

But make no mistake, Alabama is in transition. As curious a move as it was for Sunseri to turn pro early, it leads to just as puzzling questions for the Tide moving forward. There are the right coaches in place to make it work -- men like Saban, Smart and others -- but it doesn't make the events any less surprising.

RecruitingNation links: SEC edition

April, 10, 2013
4/10/13
3:00
PM ET
DawgNation
From David Ching: Jason Aldean loves the Bulldogs and has his memories of Sanford Stadium. Now, the native Georgian will play the first concert in the 84-year history of the stadium.

Also from Ching: While Georgia's Sanford Stadium is no stranger to big football, the stadium's other non-football events have been few but different.

GatorNation
From Derek Tyson Insider: The spring recruiting evaluation period begins soon and here are the key dates for the Gators.

From Michael DiRocco Insider: Five Florida Gators players who, based on what happened in spring practice, will be under pressure to produce in the fall.

GeauxTigerNation
From Gary Laney Insider: After Hurricane Katrina, some wondered if New Orleans high school football would ever come back. Now, it's stronger than ever.

Also from Laney Insider: Breaking down the bumper crop of elite 2014 recruits from New Orleans.

GigEmNation
From Sam Khan Jr.: Changes abound for Texas A&M linebackers this spring.

Also from Khan Jr. Insider: 2015 QB Kyler Murray, an A&M legacy, is pleased with his early offers.

TideNation
From Alex Scarborough: After bouncing around pro baseball for 10 years, Jai Miller returned to Alabama. The 28-year-old's journey was long but led to a chance with the Tide.

More from Scarborough: Nick Saban is legendary for his focus on forgetting the past. It’s all part of his "process." Well that never-ending cycle is in full swing this spring.

TideNation: Miller's long road to Tuscaloosa

April, 10, 2013
4/10/13
2:00
PM ET


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- His backpedal has come a long way since the start of spring practice. He is finding rhythm in his footwork, the steps coming back to him like a familiar dance from the past. Jai Miller isn't making music on the football field yet, but he's finding some of the right chords.

Nick Saban looks on. It's the first day of camp in Tuscaloosa, and already he's seeing the tools come together. Miller, his promising if not unorthodox safety, is finding his groove. Everything about him is encouraging: his maturity, his intelligence, his work ethic, his build. This is someone Saban can work with. This is someone who can do the improbable. He can make good on a second chance.

"He's catching on way faster than I did when I first got here," said safety Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, a rising junior and likely starter for the Tide. "He's catching on and learning very well and picking up and making a big improvement and change in the secondary."

Miller is still finding his way. There are good days and bad, practices where he drops three interceptions and scrimmages where he makes touchdown-saving tackles. He never thought a return to football would be easy, and so far it hasn't been. You don't show up at Alabama and become a star. You work at it and hope you're at your best when your number is called.

Hope is what football represents for Miller -- a chance to have something at the end of a toilsome journey. Alabama is either the end or the beginning for him, the final chapter of a restless athlete's tale or the start of something special.

To read the rest of Alex Scarborough's story, click here.

SPONSORED HEADLINES