Outside of Patrick Surtain II, Young Secondary One of Few Question Marks for Alabama Defense as Fall Camp Concludes
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Only 10 days out from the season opener against Missouri and there are not too many question marks with the University of Alabama football program.
But if there is one position group that lacks experience all around, it is the secondary. Especially since four key contributors from a season ago are no longer in Tuscaloosa.
“We're very, very thin in the secondary,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said on Saturday after the final scrimmage of fall camp. “We don't have a lot of depth and we've got a lot of young players, and it's very difficult to train them at multiple positions, but we're trying to use this time to be able to do that. Whether we can continue to do that throughout the season remains to be seen. But if we have to, if we have to — the best players to play when we're playing nickel, then we'll just have to play nickel instead of dime. I feel like we have a pretty good first group; it's just going to be a work in progress developing these younger players who have made extreme progress. So I'm really pleased, but I just know from past experience that when you try to get — especially when the season starts, things change from week to week.
“You get young players that play multiple positions and they don't have really a lot of experience to draw from [and] it makes it very difficult for them.”
The one mainstay in the defensive backfield is junior cornerback Patrick Surtain II, who totaled 42 tackles, eight pass breakups, two interceptions, and three forced fumbles a year ago.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Plantation, Fla. native spoke to the media via Zoom about what he is seeing from the younger players in the secondary, specifically true freshman safeties Brian Branch and Malachi Moore, who are both vying for a starting spot.
"I see them improving in knowing the plays, knowing the adjustments, knowing concepts as well," Surtain said. "They have the talent to cover, and stuff, but I know developing, the playbook and understanding the game consistently, that’s what they’ve improved upon."
Among the newcomers, Branch has received the most buzz, alongside outside linebacker Will Anderson, during camp. Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle has been real impressed with the highly-touted freshman.
“Brian Branch is definitely a baller," Waddle said. "I really like the way he competes. He is real physical and he is going to be a future star, definitely a household name.”
Another name to watch for in the secondary is Jordan Battle, who is entering his sophomore season at the Capstone after playing in all 13 games, starting in four contests, recording 30 tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception, and one fumble recovery in 2019.
"Jordan took a very big step this year," Surtain said. "He's more vocal out there. He's developing into the best player he could be. He's flying around out there, and he's evolved into that leadership we need in the secondary. So we expect great things out of him and he's doing well."
The "money" position in Saban's defensive scheme is the sixth defensive back in the dime package and sophomore DeMarcco Hellams appears in a position to earn that starting role next Saturday against the Tigers.
"DeMarcco, he’s been doing great as far as playing the money position," Surtain said. "It’s a role that needs to be filled with a tremendous amount of talent, but also knows the playbook as well. DeMarcco has been handling that role very well. We look for him to play that role great."
With Surtain at the one of the cornerback positions, it remains to be seen who will line up opposite of him, but whether that's junior Josh Jobe or redshirt junior Daniel Wright, the Crimson Tide defensive has faith in whoever it puts out there.
"I don’t know what teams are going to try and plan on," Surtain said. "I know that we’re very confident in the opposite corner. I know we’re going to do what we need to do to defend."