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Alabama junior HaHa Clinton-Dix among safeties leading new era

The tight end position is changing in football to the point where it's almost a glorified wide receiver position now. Kellen Winslow Sr. changed that position forever in the 1980s with his athletic gifts. The Chargers could split him out wide, line him up in the slot or keep him in to block. He had rare overall athletic ability.

Since that time, we've really started to slim the tight end down. We're taking a lot of big wide receivers and making them undersized tight ends. We don't ask the tight end to do the same things we used to. They don't have to be mashers.

In today's game, they're pass catchers first and occasionally blockers.

Look at the way some tight ends are dominating in college football this season. Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro is fifth among all players with 1,102 receiving yards. North Carolina's Eric Ebron (46 catches for 690 ) had NFL teams talking earlier this season with an eight-catch, 199-yard game against Miami (Fla.).

These players are forcing teams to change the way they look at the safety position.

With the tight end evolving, safeties can't just be big, in-the-box, linebacker-types. They can't just sit back and play centerfield, either. Safeties have to do a variety of things now, especially cover.

We're witnessing the safety position being redefined with bigger, more agile players with good coverage skills so they can match up well with freakishly athletic tight ends.

As I've watched this evolution continue to play out this season, here are some of the safeties that have caught my eye:

HaHa Clinton-Dix, Alabama: The Crimson Tide junior (6-foot-1, 208 pounds) is rangy, and he will strike an offensive player. He missed a couple of games this season after serving a suspension for receiving an impermissible benefit. He only has one interception this season, but he led the team and tied for the most in the SEC with five picks last season, including an incredible play in the BCS championship game against Notre Dame.

Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State: Lewis (5-10, 208) is a tough player and helped keep talented Michigan TE Devin Funchess relatively quiet in the Spartans' rout of the Wolverines earlier this month. He's second to Michigan State star CB Darqueze Dennard in pass breakups with five.

Ed Reynolds, Stanford: Reynolds (6-2, 206) also has great range and tackles well. He came a yard short of setting the NCAA single-season record for interception return yards last season, when he made a team-high six interceptions. He's very intelligent. He has a great football IQ, and outstanding bloodlines -- his father played for the Patriots and Giants.

Josh Shaw, USC: Shaw (6-1, 195) plays safety and corner. He has been playing more corner recently, but I think safety is probably his best spot. He has good size and won't be easily overpowered by a tight end. Since he's moved to corner, USC is undefeated. His move really solidified the defense. Shaw is outstanding when it comes to diagnosing plays, and he's tied for the team lead with three interceptions.

Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State: Stopwatches and tape measures probably won't be the greatest thing in the world for Zimmerman (6-1, 204), but if you just let him loose, he makes plays. He's the quarterback of the Wildcats' defense. He's not going to outrun you, but somehow he's always around the football and makes a bunch of big plays. Zimmerman leads Kansas State with three interceptions.

Baylor's defense the difference this season

There has been a great deal of talk about No. 5 Baylor's explosive offense this season, and deservedly so, but the Bears' dramatic improvement on defense this season is a big reason why the team has elevated its play. Last year, Baylor finished 119th in total defense and 110th in scoring defense. Heading into Saturday, they rank ninth in total defense and seventh in scoring defense. They have guys who can play at every level. DE Sean Oakman -- a transfer from Penn State -- is a flat-out beast and doesn't even start. At linebacker, Bryce Hager is a standout. Sam Holl and Ahmad Dixon lead the charge in the secondary. Phil Bennett, the defensive coordinator, deserves credit. A lot of these kids that were getting torched in past seasons have grown up, and they're not getting torched anymore.

Follow Charles Davis on Twitter @CFD22.

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