Whoever comes in as Alabama’s new defensive backs coach has a steep task ahead of him. Of course, every defensive backs coach has always said Nick Saban is the real defensive backs coach, but the point remains.
With the exodus of juniors Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison, UA loses its entire starting dime secondary. That would include cornerbacks Levi Wallace, Anthony Averett, Tony Brown and Hootie Jones.
Deionte Thompson appears poised to step into a starting role at safety, and he performed well in the postseason after Jones went down with an injury in the Auburn game. There are a couple of freshmen ready to take the next step, too: Daniel Wright and Xavier McKinney.
Before he left to take a job with the Oakland Raiders, Derrick Ansley, who served as UA’s defensive backs coach for two seasons, weighed in on the freshmen.
“Both of those guys, they’re unique,” Ansley said. “Both are different. Xavier’s more of a run, hit, explosive, big-hitter, Landon Collins-type physical attributes. Daniel’s more of a rangy, Ha Ha (Clinton-Dix) ball-hawking, cover type guy. They’re different but complement each other very well. We feel really good about those guys moving forward. They both can play multiple positions. The more we feed them, the more they’re going to develop in the future.”
Wright said he could play four positions in the secondary including the star, money, and strong and free safety. Because of that versatility, he spent as much time as he could this season around Minkah Fitzpatrick, who famously could’ve played all six defensive back positions in Alabama’s secondary.
“Well, I can say this year has been a learning year for me,” Wright said. “I’m taking a lot of things in and learning from the other players I’ve been playing with. They’ve been guiding the way and showing me the techniques and fundamentals and how to play in the right position and be in the right place to make plays. I’ve been taking that in and learning how to do it because next year I know it’s going to be a big toll for us on this defensive side. I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can from the older boys. Minkah’s been showing a lot and basically perfecting a lot on the field. I’ve been learning so next year I have the opportunity to get out there and do the right job.
“Next year the role for me will be bigger, playing multiple positions. That’s going to take a big task of me. That’s why I’m learning as much as I can now with these boys here so that next year I can go lay it out on the table.
“I’ve been working nickel, money, free and strong at the same time. That’s what coach has me on. That’s why I’ve learned a lot from Minkah.”
Both players don’t lack confidence. They both played in 13 games this season and combined to make 18 tackles. That confidence is one reason why they’re both favorites to earn starting roles.
“It’s been kind of crazy. Ups and downs. As a freshman, I think you get that,” McKinney said. “I keep moving forward trying to get better every day.
“Hopefully, I’ll be stepping into the regular, the nickel and the dime. That’s what I’m looking forward to. That’s what I’m ready to do. I think I’m capable to do it.”
Reach Aaron Suttles at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.