This is the final installment of a six-part series looking ahead to the start of Alabama’s spring football practice. We continue with a breakdown of the secondary.
II: Offensive line
III: Running backs/wide receivers/tight ends
IV: Defensive line
Two key pieces of the secondary are gone. Eddie Jackson broke his leg and didn’t play the stretch run of Alabama’s playoff season last year. Marlon Humphrey opted to leave eligibility on the table and declare for the NFL Draft. However, arguably the best member of the secondary returns for his junior season in Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is the Swiss-Army knife of the Crimson Tide secondary. He can do a bit of everything with the ability to play corner, Star and safety. Where he’ll play this season isn’t yet known. Defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley returns after a productive first season to lead the unit. Anthony Averett emerged as the surprise player in last year’s unit, and he was the most productive too. Who could be that player this season? There is no shortage of candidates.
Intrigue level: 4
*Intrigue level is rated on a scale of 1-5 based on competition, number of starting spots available at a respective position and growth needed for a position
The list must begin with Averett, who had a great season in 2016. He was quietly one of the better players on the defense. A major decision that must be made is where Fitzpatrick will play. He is the best defensive back on the team, and it wouldn’t surprise many if he moves back to corner. That move could be made if wildcard player Tony Brown remains a viable option to hold down the Star nickel back position or the safety spots. If Brown can do that, the defensive coach staff would undoubtedly feel much more comfortable in moving Fitzpatrick to corner. Otherwise, look for one of the young defensive backs like Shyheim Carter, Aaron Robinson, Jared Mayden or Nigel Knott to compete for the spot opposite Averett.
Ronnie Harrison is a two-year starter at safety, and he’ll be the guy on the back end of the defense that the young players will look to for an example. Hootie Jones should keep his spot in dime defenses. The unknown is where Fitzpatrick and Brown end up playing. Deionte Thompson is another to watch in the competition.
It’s a big year for the secondary, which might be counted on a little more this season without as much depth on the defensive line creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That might be the secondary needs to provide tighter coverage to give the defensive line time to get home to the passer. Averett had a breakout season last year. Who emerges at the opposite corner remains to be seen. If Fitzpatrick is moved to corner full time, the coaching staff will feel confident due to his experience. If it’s a younger player, as history has taught us, there will be some growing pains.
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.