DeMarcco Hellams is next man up for struggling Alabama football secondary vs Georgia
For a team replacing three starters in its secondary, Alabama football had few questions in terms of personnel.
Jordan Battle was already a partial starter, playing deep safety in dime packages in 2019, and Daniel Wright was a solid second-stringer, giving both an obvious path to starting roles in 2020.
Three games in, that plan is in shambles.
Battle will miss the first half of the Georgia game after a targeting ejection in the fourth quarter against Ole Miss. Wright was benched in the second half of that game. The fallout could leave sophomore DeMarcco Hellams in a much bigger role in UA’s secondary for at least the first half against the Bulldogs, if not the second half and several games beyond.
Hellams was the one who replaced Wright against Ole Miss and finished with six tackles.
“Well we’ve got a lot of confidence in DeMarcco,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “I think he went in there and did a good job. He’s been a really good special teams player for us, played some in dime.”
Hellams was identified by outgoing starting safety Jared Mayden as a player who “came into his own” during his freshman season. Hellams had to compete with sophomore Jalyn Armour-Davis, junior college transfer Ronald Williams Jr. and freshmen Malachi Moore and Brian Branch for playing time at UA’s star and money positions, its nickel and dime defensive backs. Moore got the nod at star and Hellams won the money position.
“It’s a role that needs to be filled with a tremendous amount of talent, but also knows the playbook as well,” UA cornerback Patrick Surtain II said. “DeMarcco has been handling that role very well. We look for him to play that role great.”
Hellams was an all-around star for one of the nation’s best high school programs, DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Maryland. In the state semifinals his senior year, he caught two touchdown passes and blocked a punt for a safety. He got offers from Michigan, Tennessee and Virginia Tech as early as his sophomore year, many of them to play wide receiver.
Hellams' biggest job now is to master the intricacies of whichever secondary position he may play, be it his usual money position or a deep safety spot in Battle’s absence or Wright’s place. Hellams is not alone in that regard: execution of the scheme is a priority for the entire defensive backfield after allowing Ole Miss to throw for 379 yards, becoming the only unranked team to throw for more than 375 on UA in the Saban era.
“We just got to get our whole group on defense to play with better eye control and look at the right things so they can react to the plays better,” Saban said. “I think that’s probably a generalization for the entire group. But I think that’s the only thing that’s going to help us get better. I think everybody needs to do that.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson.