TUSCALOOSA, Ala. _ University of Alabama senior safety Nick Perry can’t help it if every once in a while he looks around the secondary and feels like the old man of the group.

In terms of recruiting classes, only reserve defensive lineman Anthony Orr has been on the team longer, and just a handful of the other members of the signing Class of 2010 remain – DeAndrew White, Jarrick Williams, Arie Kouandjio, Jalston Fowler, Brian Vogler, Blake Sims, Austin Shepherd and Brandon Ivory.

“It definitely comes up fast,” he said. “That’s a big thing now that I have to become a leader. I have to tell these guys you have to take advantage of your chances. You have to make it happen on the field and make it happen off the field by getting your degree and doing the right things.”

Academically Perry has done that. He already his degree in business management and is going for his master’s in sports management.

Now he’s trying to match that success by landing the starting job at free safety, or at least be a regular part of the rotation. While the fifth-year player has played in 29 games for the Crimson Tide he has just four starts to his name.

“It would mean a lot to me,” he said. “I came here to play. A lot of guys, you don’t come here to be on the bench, you come here to play. I think it’s everybody’s mission to put the best people on the field.

“As long as we’re winning I think I’m happy.”

Even though Alabama appeared set at safety last season with starters Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri, and Landon Collins quickly coming on, Perry had hoped to be a fixture in either the nickel or dime packages when the Crimson Tide brought in extra defensive backs.

But after playing in all 14 games of 2012, he was shut down two weeks into the season and had shoulder surgery, resulting in a medical redshirt. Perry could have called it a career but instead jumped at a chance to come back and go through the rigorous offseason one final time.

“Just wear and tear, man, just physical play in the SEC,” he said of his shoulder. “It’s a common injury among defensive backs. Since I’ve been here for four years and hitting guys every day, it just happened.”

Although Geno Smith got the nod at free safety for A-Day, so far Perry appears to be filling that role during training camp. A fixture in the two-deep rotation for quite some time, in 2012 he was credited with 38 tackles, including two for a loss and the lone sack of his career.

But after he, Collins and slot defender Jarrick Williams, the position group drops off dramatically in terms of experience. Perry says that Laurence “Hootie” Jones and Ronnie Clark, along with cornerbacks Tony Brown and  Marlin Humphrey, have “big careers coming,” but are all true freshmen.

When you also factor in that Alabama may only have two returning starters among the front seven, with linebackers Trey DePriest and Denzel Devall while Ivory is currently suspended, and the very young players challenging for playing time at cornerback, and his experience becomes that much more valuable.

Granted, Perry has yet to notch his first career interception, but he figures to have some opportunities this season if he can pin down the free safety job. Opposing offenses will probably challenge Alabama’s cornerbacks less as they improve, and won’t be too eager to go after Collins, a preseason All-SEC section.

“Any time you have guys that have the kind of knowledge and experience that he has, it’s certainly something that can be beneficial to you because I think he can play a lot of positions, he can play a lot of spots, and you know he’s always going to show up in the right place,” Coach Nick Saban said. “So, he’s a very, very dependable guy for us.”