By Ben Stansell
Special to The Tuscaloosa News
Alabama safeties Deionte Thompson and Xavier McKinney strive to make sure they’re on the same page.
Jordan Ta’amu found that out the hard way Saturday night.
Trailing Alabama by a touchdown with eight minutes left in the second quarter, the Ole Miss quarterback dropped back and scanned his options downfield. Not a soul was open. Trying to turn nothing into something, he tucked the ball and ran.
Thompson and McKinney both took notice and both sped in his direction. Although McKinney was the first to deliver a crushing hit, Thompson was not far behind with a bruising blow of his own. Their combined effort jarred the ball loose. Alabama recovered.
With each big play Thompson and McKinney make – and they’ve made plenty so far this season – they continue to dispel any lingering doubts about Alabama’s secondary and their ability to lead it.
“I’ve all along had my trust and faith in them (the secondary),” linebacker Christian Miller said. “I said that during camp. It’s nice to see it just playing out that way. Now everybody else can see all the hard work those guys have been doing. They’re playing great, so as long as they keep doing that, we’ll have a good chance of being really good.”
Coming into the season, Thompson was the more well-known commodity. The lanky junior from Orange, Texas, had all but solidified his spot as a starter with his play in last season’s college football playoff. McKinney, from Roswell, Georgia, earned his spot throughout the spring and preseason.
Since stepping into their new roles, Thompson and McKinney have developed a strong rapport, ensuring the entire defense is cohesive as a unit.
“Me and DT (Thompson), we always communicate,” McKinney said. “We always talk to each other about being on the same page and making everybody else is on the same page. I feel like it’s getting better each and every week.”
Just as the communication has improved on a weekly basis, Alabama’s secondary has as well. Against Louisville, 252 passing yards were allowed. Against Arkansas State, just 218. And then last Saturday, facing an Ole Miss receiving corps that some have praised as the best in the country, Alabama gave up only 133.
“There’s a standard that has been created here,” Thompson said. “DBs play a certain way and we have to play to that standard.”
Along with leading a steadily progressing secondary, Alabama’s safety duo has turned in impressive individual performances. Thompson leads the team in tackles (16) and McKinney is tied for third (12 tackles).
Thompson has already reeled in two interceptions, showing range and athleticism that will make quarterbacks reconsider airing it out in his direction. McKinney hauled in his own interception last Saturday, picking Ta’amu off and sprinting to the end zone for his first career pick-six.
“They’re both playing with a lot of confidence,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “They have better knowledge and understanding. They’ve now gained a little bit of experience in three games. I’m pleased with the progress that they’ve made and they’ve got to continue to build on that.”