Jared Mayden has played in 24 games during his three years at Alabama, and he’s still searching for his first career start.

This might be his season.

The senior defensive back is poised to fill the hole left by safety Deionte Thompson, who declared for the NFL draft a year early after earning AP All-America honors and leading Alabama’s secondary last season.

Mayden has put himself in position to be the next man up by combining his knowledge of the playbook with the experience he gained as a reserve.

“Jared’s looking real good,” cornerback Trevon Diggs said. “Jared’s always been smart. He’s always been a good player. But now I see him improving and really getting situated.”

Teammate and UA coach Nick Saban have confidence in Mayden’s ability to transition from being one of Alabama’s top backups to a real difference-maker in the secondary. Mayden made 18 tackles, added a sack and defended two passes in 13 games last season. That production could increase next season, if these past few weeks have been any indication of what’s to come.

The Crimson Tide just held its 14th and final spring practice Thursday and will host its annual A-Day game Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium at 1 p.m.

“Jared has really done a nice job for us,” Saban said. “He really showed up well in the scrimmage. He’s played really well. Did a good job of tackling. Played with more toughness in the game. He’s been pretty consistent. I think he has a pretty good understanding of what is expected of him. I’ve been very encouraged with his progress and very happy with his performance so far.”

Mayden securing a starting spot at safety will take some of the load off Xavier McKinney, who is also moving into a larger leadership role this season after a breakout sophomore campaign last year. McKinney actually helped Thompson call out defensive assignments and plays in 2018.

Now, McKinney is looking forward to Mayden serving in that role.

“That’s my boy,” McKinney said. “He’s done a great job in communicating and doing his job and making sure he’s in the right place at the right time. He’s doing a great job, and I’m trying to keep him, just like he’s trying to keep me, at that top level so we can get better as the year goes on.”

Mayden’s ability to communicate with the rest of the defense is especially important. Breakdowns in communication plagued the Crimson Tide’s secondary at times last season. That tended to be the reason given whenever something went wrong.

Well, Mayden is already transmitting adjustments and calls to the rest of the defense in a way that’s noticeable by players on the other side of the ball.

“He’s been at safety for a while and he has everything, he knows what to do,” Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith said. “Just the whole defense, knows what to do and just how everyone communicates over there.”