In a season in which the narrative about the Alabama defense has been as much about the men who are missing – linebackers who have been lost to injury – Ronnie Harrison has been a fixture.
On a team that is also painted as passionless in its play, relying on a devotion to process more than relying on the power of passion, Harrison, the Crimson Tide’s junior safety, has been a fiery presence, an enforcer who has earned high praise from defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
“He’s got good size in the back end,” said Pruitt, referring to Harrison’s position rather than his posterior. “He makes a lot of the calls back there. He’s sort of the quarterback of the defense. Defensively, you start at the back end and work your way forward (with calls).
“He’s a confident player. He’s improved his tackling in man-to-man this season. And from my standpoint, he’s a guy that the other guys respond to. He’s got leadership skills, so the (other) players kind of gravitate to him, kind of feed of off him.”
So how does Harrison, always unpredictable, respond to such praise from the boss of the Crimson Tide defense, who will move to his new job as Tennessee’s head coach full time as soon as Alabama’s season ends?
“We’re close,” he says. “I’m going to cheer for Coach Pruitt for sure. I don’t know about Tennessee.
“Since he came back to practice, it’s felt regular. It wasn’t anything different. I do sing ‘Rocky Top,’ just to mess with him.”
That illustrates the two sides of Harrison, part of what has proven to be an important mix for Alabama. Preparation and emotion are both important for UA, hoping that the third time will be the charm in solving a Clemson offense that has found success against the Crimson Tide in two consecutive college football playoff games.
“I play the game with a lot of passion,” Harrison, the fiery counterpoint to cool Minkah Fitzpatrick in what ESPN analyst Tim Tebow called “the best pair of safeties in college football,” in a rare interview
“We call Minkah a robot because he’s always around the complex, watching film,” Harrison said. “But he can play the game any way you want to play it.”
Harrison cautioned that it is unfair to categorize him as strictly emotional, without an analytical element.
“I take the game seriously,” he said. “I approach it differently than others. I think that’s what helps me. I think about the game a lot in my head. Even when people leave after practice and go do other things, the game is still running in my head. I’ll play the whole game mentally before it happens.”
Still, Harrison can’t deny the emotional side of his play.
“During camp, when practice wasn’t going too good, I’d try to change it,” he said. “I’d make a play or just hit somebody and practice would amp up.”
In the New Orleans practices, Harrison says, he is focusing on the analytical, reliving the end of last year’s loss to the Tigers on a constantly running loop.
“I see it,” Harrison said of Clemson’s game-wining touchdown or, as he was quick to call it, “the pick play.”
“I see how we lost. What happened. How it all unfolded. We just didn’t bring it. We didn’t have the right answer. This year, we have to have the answer.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.