|TideSports College Football Preview|
Position Coach: Derrick Ansley (second season)
Returning starters: CB Anthony Averett, CB Tony Brown, S Minkah Fitzpatrick, S Ronnie Harrison
Starter lost: CB Marlon Humphrey
Based on the returning players, most of the starting spots seem secure. Safety Hootie Jones has experience at all three deep spots, although he has gotten a strong camp push from sophomore Deionte Thompson. Cornerback Shyheim Carter continues to improve but it’s a crowded picture at cornerback, especially when Alabama chooses to use Minkah Fitzpatrick as a corner.
Newcomer to watch
While he isn’t technically a newcomer to the team, sophomore Trevon Diggs only chose to devote himself to defense as a full-time occupation at the start of fall camp. Though he showed flashes at wide receiver last year, the secondary seems to be his natural home (and also a team area of need.) If you insist on a freshman here, Xavier McKinney of Roswell, Ga., might be one to watch.
You need to know
Alabama uses as many as six defensive backs on the field at the same time in its dime package, so “returning starters” can be stretched well beyond the traditional four-man defensive backfield. Minkah Fitzpatrick — named a first-team preseason All-American by Sports Illustrated — is especially valuable because he can play any of the six positions. He had six interceptions in 2016 and ran back two of them for touchdowns, averaging 31 yards per return.
Fitzpatrick is the immediately recognizable name, but this could also be a breakout year for Averett and Harrison, both considered as possible high-round NFL draft choices in 2018. Brown, an NCAA All-American hurdler and sprinter in outdoor track, is still seeking consistency. Depth at the corners will come from former walk on Levi Wallace and freshman Jared Mayden.
If Averett and Diggs can control the cornerback spots, Alabama will have one of the top safety duos in the NCAA with Fitzpatrick and Harrison. Thompson would probably be the next option here, especially when Fitzpatrick works at nickelback. Jones gives Alabama another experienced player in the mix.
Carter could be on the field in either the nickel or dime packages for Alabama, again depending on the progress Brown makes in terms of consistency. Redshirt freshman Nigel Knott has worked as a backup at both nickel and star.
Alabama was fourth in the SEC in passing yardage allowed in 2016 (197.9 yards per game) and while some of that was due to the difficulty of running against the Tide, it’s a number that could be improved.
“I think we have good players in the secondary. I think the biggest focus I have is trying to get them in the right spots, how we match up the best, what kind of depth can we develop. That’s what I would be concerned with.”
– head coach Nick Saban
– head coach Nick Saban