Who will start alongside Patrick Surtain II in Alabama football's secondary?
This story was originally published Aug. 14, 2020.
The University of Alabama lost a cornerback and safety in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, then two more secondary starters to undrafted free agent deals. No position group at UA is undergoing a more complete overhaul than its secondary.
One of the returnees, cornerback Patrick Surtain II, was projected as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft in Todd McShay’s mock draft this week, but he is alone in terms of proven starter experience in UA’s secondary. How UA fills those holes will determine how it follows up having the nation’s third-best pass defense last season after allowing 5.9 yards per attempt.
UA’s situation of immediate need at corner was addressed by the signing of Ronald Williams Jr., a junior college defensive back from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. He is a versatile player who could start at cornerback, safety or the star position, but more likely to be at cornerback or star.
The same versatility from Josh Jobe — who started the Citrus Bowl in Trevon Diggs’ absence — gives UA at least two options for its cornerback and star starters alongside Surtain: Jobe at corner and Williams at star or vice versa.
Jobe and Williams are the top two by experience and recruiting priority, but UA has other options on the roster if the Williams experiment does not work out immediately (as is the goal with junior college signings). Redshirt sophomore Jalyn Armour-Davis, sophomore Marcus Banks and redshirt freshman Brandon Turnage are all returning options in addition to freshman Jahquez Robinson, who enrolled early enough to participate in Citrus Bowl practices before the team left for Orlando.
The safety positions come with (slightly) more clarity. Jordan Battle was a deep safety in UA’s dime package for most of the 2019 season, giving him a clear path to an every-down safety role in 2020. When UA deployed its second-team defense, then-redshirt sophomore Daniel Wright was the safety alongside Battle, but it will not be that clear cut: former UA safety Jared Mayden spoke highly of DeMarcco Hellams, who will be a redshirt freshman in 2020.
One of the downfalls of the 2019 defense was that its shortcomings against the run often overshadowed its excellence against the pass: despite being a top-five pass defense by multiple metrics, it ranked 15th nationally in yards per play allowed thanks to a run defense that ranked tied for 43rd. If Alabama cannot find answers in its secondary, the inverse could be what holds it back in 2020.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson