GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Crimson Tide-tinted friendship of Landon Collins and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will be tested on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Two of the game’s top young safeties have known each other since college. Collins followed Clinton-Dix to Alabama, then to the NFL.
They will get together again this Sunday when Clinton-Dix and the Green Bay Packers host Collins and the New York Giants in an NFC wild-card game , a day before Alabama plays for another national title .
“I hope he goes out and has a tremendous game, and also takes an ‘L,'” Clinton-Dix said in a friendly voice.
It’s been quite the season already for Collins and Clinton-Dix. They each have five interceptions, tying for the league lead among safeties. They have each been named to their first Pro Bowl. They both wear No. 21.
“We’re like brothers. That’s my boy,” Collins said. “We train together and almost do everything together.”
They don’t have quite the same roles, though.
Listed at 6 feet, 225 pounds, the sturdy Collins plays strong safety in the Giants’ stout secondary after being selected in the second round of the 2015 draft with the 33rd overall pick.
The 6-foot-1, 208-pound Clinton-Dix roams the field as a free safety for the Packers after being taken in the first round of the 2014 draft with the 21st overall pick.
The Packers might especially need Clinton-Dix to fulfill his big-play potential on Sunday, with the cornerback position beset by injuries just as Odell Beckham Jr., and the Giants’ talented receiving corps arrive at Lambeau.
Quinten Rollins has been ruled out with a neck injury, and after being placed in the concussion protocol this week. Fellow cornerback Damarious Randall, who is questionable with a knee injury, returned to practice as a full participant on Thursday after being limited earlier in the week.
“We just find ways to finish ballgames, we’re finding ways to stick together,” Clinton-Dix said Thursday. “We’ve been playing ball, man. We’ve just got to keep it up.”
Just like in the teams’ first meeting in October, when the Packers beat the Giants 23-16. Clinton-Dix posted a picture on Instagram after the game in which he exchanged his green-and-gold Packers jersey for Collins’ white Giants jersey.
“We WILL be on TOP SOON! Nick Saban Safeties,” Clinton-Dix wrote on Instagram, referring to the Tide’s head coach.
Wearing a knit hat with Alabama’s scripted “A” logo after practice this week, Clinton-Dix spoke with pride about the strides that he and Collins have made this year.
“I see him ballin,’ I also want to do it too. It’s of kind of like — we always heard about ‘Bama safeties not stepping up to the plate, or DBs period. That kind of put a chip on our (shoulders) as well,” Clinton-Dix said. “We’ve been representing our program and where we come from well, so we’ve just got to continue doing it.”
Collins had 125 tackles and four sacks in this breakthrough season. He’s a big reason why the Giants defense has been playing so well late in the year, and why New York has the stingiest red-zone defense in the NFL (39.5 percent).
The biggest improvement over Collins’ first two years in the league has been on the mental side of the game, Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas said.
“It wasn’t that he didn’t have a high football IQ because he does, but it was that we gave him everything, we gave him the whole playbook and you got to call the defense,” Casillas said. “Then you come in this year and you see what type of person, what type of player he is, because he has it down pat and he’s not thinking once or twice about it and that’s a tribute to him.”
Packers safeties coach Darren Perry has seen similar improvement in Clinton-Dix. Reactions are quicker on the field, while Clinton-Dix is also cutting down on missed tackles, Perry said.
Clinton-Dix partners with Morgan Burnett to give the Packers’ a strong duo at safety. Burnett said communication is so seamless now between them that the teammates can tell what last-minute adjustments the other safety might make by just making eye contact.
“I think the thing that you probably see now compared to his first couple years is that he’s not afraid to make a mistake,” Perry said recently about Clinton-Dix. “I think you see him trusting his eyes and it may not be perfect and they’re not going to grade out 100 percent, and that’s OK. The name of the game when you play the safety position is big hits and interceptions.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, New Jersey, contributed to this report.
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