EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third installment in a nine-part series looking ahead to the start of Alabama football’s fall practice. Today we break down the defensive backfield:
The starters leaving spring practice appeared to be junior college transfer Saivion Smith and junior Trevon Diggs. Smith began his career at LSU after choosing the Tigers over the Crimson Tide out of high school. Coach Nick Saban said in the spring that he likes Smith’s ability and he had done a good job of learning what coaches had asked, though some of the techniques he had to pick up were still different than how he had played in the past. Diggs lost a position battle with Levi Wallace last fall, but gained experience during the season and is an impressive athlete. Both players have excellent size for the position. Junior Shyheim Carter finished spring as the top option at nickel.
There should be competition with some of the incoming players. Five-star freshman Patrick Surtain was a coup in this signing class. Mobile product Jalyn Armour-Davis and Miami native Josh Jobe could also be factors. Jared Mayden, Nigel Knott and Kyriq McDonald are returning players who will be pushing for bigger roles at a position with plenty of jobs available.
The only returning player with recent starting experience is junior Deionte Thompson. He stepped in ably during the postseason after Hootie Jones’ injury and should hold one spot at the back end of the defense. Xavier McKinney also seems to be in good position, though he’s still relatively unproven.
Sophomore Daniel Wright is also one to remember here. He played mostly on special teams as a freshman but might see a bigger role somewhere in the secondary. True freshman Slade Bolden, a do-it-all player in high school, was working with this group in spring.
Pieces will likely move up, down and around the depth chart during fall camp as Saban and new defensive backs coach Karl Scott try to replace the top six secondary players from last season. There’s talent here, but much of it is untested. The nature of Alabama’s secondary means it’s easy to imagine some players sliding from corner to safety or vice versa to help with depth as needed. The new redshirt rule should also give the staff some time to learn which players can help in the early part of the season. Bobby Petrino’s offense at Louisville and a strong passing game from Arkansas State could test this group even before the meat of the SEC schedule arrives.