As Kool-Aid McKinstry and defensive depth shine, Alabama football might need more help after Will Anderson’s injury

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

Alabama football cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry already had an “oh yeah” worthy moment in only the second game of his collegiate career.

He burst onto the college football scene like the Kool-Aid man through a wall Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, grabbing an interception in his starting debut against Mercer.

He snatched the ball out of the air after sophomore linebacker Drew Sanders tipped it in the first quarter. McKinstry also finished the game second on the team with six total tackles. 

“I thought (McKinstry) did a good job,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I really did. He knew the game plan, he prepared well, he played well in the game.”

That tip drill was significant in the early part of the game as the offense started slow, but it’s especially worth noting because of who made it – two depth players on the defense.

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Both McKinstry and Sanders did not begin the year listed as starters on the depth chart. But because of injuries, both started against Mercer.

Already, Alabama is having to call on depth two games into the season. So far, that depth is proving capable.

But the Crimson Tide might need even more young talent to step up soon. Alabama didn’t escape Saturday’s win completely healthy — Will Anderson, one of its best players, exited in the second half with an injury. 

He didn’t return, and Saban said Anderson is questionable heading into Florida week as medical professionals check out his knee.

Alabama entered the game already down an outside linebacker. Christopher Allen left the first game against Miami on a cart and had to have surgery on a foot fracture that is likely season-ending.

In Allen’s absence, Sanders made some standout plays early. In addition to the tip that led to McKinstry’s interception, Sanders also broke up a pass while dropping in coverage in the first half. His burst off the edge at one point led to a sack as defensive tackle DJ Dale finished what Sanders started.

If Anderson must miss time opposite Sanders, Chris Braswell and Dallas Turner are expected to be the next two up.

Braswell also made a splash play Saturday, but it came on special teams. He showed explosiveness as he managed to block a punt that led to a scoop-and-score for Jase McClellan. That play was the first score of the game. 

“When it comes to injuries, it’s next man up,” linebacker Christian Harris said. “Everybody has to make sure they’re preparing, whether you’re a starter or not. You’re putting in just as much time as a starter, learning plays and preparing throughout the week, in case that time comes when it’s Saturday and somebody may go down. Really just trying to make sure we’re keeping everybody on defense like that, especially with the young guys who are getting an opportunity now.”

Alabama has five-star prospects in Braswell and Turner, but Anderson’s absence would be felt. He’s a nightmare off the edge for opposing offenses, and he’s been looking to build on a freshman campaign in which he tallied seven sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss, each third-best in the SEC in 2020.

Meanwhile in the secondary, both starters at cornerback missed the game with injuries. Jalyn Armour-Davis and Josh Jobe weren’t able to practice all week, and Saban said he didn’t want to play them because of all that Mercer had going on offensively.

“I think the other guys should be back,” Saban said. “We didn’t think their injuries were that serious to start with, but they were a little more serious than what we originally anticipated or thought they would be.”

Marcus Banks filled in as well as McKinstry. They weren’t perfect, and the secondary will probably have some things to clean up once Saban can go back to the film room and look closer at two touchdown passes given up in the second half. But based on initial impressions, McKinstry is off to a strong start.  

Alabama will need the same from guys such as Braswell and Turner if Anderson misses time. 

Contact Alabama football reporter Nick Kelly: nkelly@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly.