INDIANAPOLIS — The pipeline between Alabama head coach Nick Saban and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick could produce another connection in the 2014 NFL draft.
The Patriots have scheduled an informal meeting with Alabama safety Hasean Clinton-Dix in Indianapolis.
Hasean (pronounced "ha-SEEN," nicknamed Ha Ha by his grandmother) is listed at 6-foot-1 and 208 pounds with 32 3/8-inch long arms and 9-inch hands. His size is a plus; the emergence of Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor has created buzz around many of the draft's big-bodied safeties who could carry out similar duties.
"Chance is a big player and big time safety," he said, "but you also need safeties who can cover the slot receivers, and also play the deep middle of the field, and also get in the box, so I think you need more versatile safeties in this league now."
Those hard-hitting safeties will be a sought-after commodity as teams try to pull off their best impression of the Seahawks secondary. Clinton-Dix is listed as a free safety, but he doesn't see himself as solely that kind of player.
He spent most of his sophomore year playing as a traditional deep safety, but moved into the box more to defend the run in his junior year. In that respect, he feels he is more closely defined by the latter of those two roles.
"I would say [the] LSU [game]," he said, when asked to name an individual performance from 2013 that defines him as a player. "They were a run team, power formation team, power backs. I was in the box a lot, you know, being physical."
He feels that playing both spots, however, has better prepared him for life in the NFL.
"At the next level, you've gotta know both [free safety and strong safety]," he said, "you gotta be able to play in the box and play deep. If you know both you'll be fine."
Free safety and strong safety can sometimes be dictated by the offense, not the defense. It depends where the tight end lines up, and what the offense is doing. If an offense is running deep patterns at the strong safety, his abilities to cover will be in focus. If a team is running in that direction, he'll be asked to come downhill and help out against the run.
Being able to do both effectively is a huge plus for any safety, especially in the Patriots' defense.
In addition to Clinton-Dix's versatility, he's made ready for the NFL by his experience playing in the SEC against the best players college football has to offer.
"Most definitely, I feel like a lot of teams use a pro style offense in college," he said. "Playing for coach Saban's defense, we did a lot of things. We played nickel, dime, Cover 2 ... we played a lot of different defenses in that area."
His time in the SEC may have better prepared him for the NFL, but make no mistake, he knows he still has much to learn.
To that end, he has been in touch with some other Alabama alums, Buccaneers safety Mark Barron and Jets cornerback Dee Milliner, who both had some good advice for him.
"They just said to stay humble [and] stay calm," he said. "Like I said, you enjoy this game, you love this game, you play this game for a reason, so l mean, you go out and have fun at the end of the day and enjoy it."
Clinton-Dix is projected to be a first-round pick, but may not even be available by the time the Patriots are on the clock — most mock drafts have projected him to be snapped up in the middle of the first round, between picks 14 and 24.
Either way, the Patriots are wise to cover all the bases. The NFL draft is unpredictable, and there's just no telling who will be taken where. The Patriots want to make sure they've done their homework on Clinton-Dix.
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