A day after Internet rumors had him crawling off the field with a severe knee injury, safety Deionte Thompson was at Alabama football practice Wednesday afternoon. The redshirt sophomore sustained a bone bruise to his lower leg, but otherwise he was none the worse for wear.
Thompson could play a significant role in Alabama’s defensive effort against Clemson in the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl semifinal game in the College Football Playoff. He backed up Hootie Jones for much of the season. Now Jones is out with a knee injury he sustained in the Iron Bowl.
Thompson played in all 12 games this season and was a consistent special teams player, recording 18 tackles, including one tackle for loss with one interception.
When the Crimson Tide goes to its dime defense, Thompson would likely be the player called upon as the sixth defensive back.
UA coach Nick Saban said he’s pleased with the improvement Thompson has made this season.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in Deionte,” Saban said. “He’s really improved a lot throughout the course of the year in terms of his knowledge and experience and understanding of what’s expected of him. He has really good range. We need him to play well for us, and I certainly think he’s capable of doing that. When he’s had the opportunity to play this year he’s played well for us. We’re excited for Deionte and the opportunity he may have.”
Saban expressed sadness for Jones not having the opportunity to compete in the postseason as a senior. Jones had asserted himself during the season with 53 tackles (fourth on the team) and two interceptions. Now it will likely fall to Thompson or one of a couple of freshmen — Xavier McKinney and Daniel Wright — to step up.
“I don’t know what we are going to do,” junior defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “I have been all over the place in practice since Hootie has been out. But we’ve got a couple of guys stepping up: Deionte Thompson, Xavier McKinney and Daniel Wright — they’ve all been doing their job and doing it well. I think it’s going to be something we probably decide next week, so we can have more practice reps with it. That decision is going to be up to coach.”
Saban said the coaching staff hasn’t made a decision on Jones’ replacement yet.
“We’re looking at several different combinations right now,” he said.
Still, Thompson earned his teammates’ respect with the way he’s competed.
“He’s definitely more confident out there,” cornerback Levi Wallace said. “You see him every time he makes a play, he’s excited about it. He knows his job a little bit better this year.
“I think it’s more of a team effort of everyone just knowing their assignments this year. He plays with a different passion. We make fun of him because of how hard he goes in practice. We say like he’s playing like he has kids to feed at home. Especially in practice he’s just all go for it, so it’s good to have a guy like that out there with us.”
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