Tide in Transition: Alabama has to Regroup in the Secondary, but is Prepared
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When it comes to Nick Saban, the proverb “fool me once, shame on thee; fool me twice, shame on me,” almost always applies, especially when it comes to his roster. The Alabama coach seldom gets caught off-guard a second time.
His defensive backs are a good example.
One of the reasons for Crimson Tide’s brief dip during the middle of last decade was lack of depth in the secondary. Between players going pro early and some others who didn’t pan out the coaching staff made restocking the cornerbacks and safeties an even bigger priority – plus last season there was an extra defensive backs coach on staff.
So when Xavier McKinney recently announced he was going pro a year early along with Trevon Diggs, Alabama was prepared. Josh Jobe stepped in for Diggs during the Citrus Bowl, as the cornerback opted not to practice or play against Michigan, and freshmen Jordan Battle worked his way into the rotation and is poised to become a starter next season.
Consequently, the 2020 secondary won’t just be Patrick Surtain II and a bunch of question marks, although there will be a lot of competition. It’ll begin at the other corner spot, where Jobe will likely go into the spring as the player to beat.
“He’s brought a lot of fire to the defense when he’s on the field,” Surtain said. “When you give Josh an opportunity, he always makes a big-time play. When he’s on the field, he’s a very dynamic player.”
Alabama will also need to find at least one starting safety and a new player at nickel when it brings in an extra defensive back. In Saban’s scheme the player is known as the “star” and it’s a position Surtain has already learned, so he’s a possibility.
That versatility will help the coaches get the best five players on the field – sort of like they do with the offensive line.
One of the ways Saban protected himself was to land Donald Williams in the 2020 signing class. The 6-foor-2 cornerback originally hailing from Ferriday (La.) High School really blossomed at the junior-college level. In 10 games last season for Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, he was credited with 31 tackles, three interceptions and five pass breakups.
“So we have not typically recruited a whole lot of junior college guys but the junior college guys that we have, have fulfilled a need and been able to contribute and play early on here and play well for us,” Saban said. “So we’re hopeful that will be the case.
“He’s got really good size. He’s played star, safety and corner so he has versatility as a player. He played at a really good junior college program where they’ve had a lot of success and he was a real contributor to that so we’re excited about the opportunity to have a guy like that to add to the group so we’re not too awful young, get a little maturity as well.”
Two returning players to keep an eye on are Scooby Carter and Nigel Knott. Carter left school near the end of last semester and is expected to rejoin the team. Knott missed all of the 2019 season with a medical issue, but recently tweeted that he’s been cleared to return to football.
One unknown that fans will have to wait to get an answer about is where Kristian Story will line up after he played at numerous positions, including quarterback, while helping lead Lanett High School to an Alabama state championship. Alabama simply lists Story as an “athlete” for now, and he’s not an early enrollee.
“Kristian Story is a great athlete,” Saban said. “I think Kristian actually sees himself at another position and he’s been so productive in so many ways, whether it’s running the ball, throwing touchdown passes, making interceptions on defense. I think this guy is a unique athlete with great character.
“His dad is a coach. Very bright, smart. Plays the game very instinctively wherever he plays. Like I always tell guys, look, we want you to play where you think you have the best opportunity to develop a career as football player and we give everybody an opportunity to do that. And we certainly will in his case as well. He’ll determine where he starts out playing and if we think there’s a better spot for him, we’ll go from there.”
Alabama Defensive Backs
Name, Recruiting Class, Stars, Rank
Patrick Surtain Jr., 2018, 5, 6
Jordan Battle, 2019, 4, 43
Nigel Knott, 2016, 4, 66
DeMarcco Hellams 2019, 4, 84
Scooby Carter, 2019, 4, 91
Brandon Turnage 2019, 4, 103
Jalyn Armour-Davis, 2018, 4, 107
Josh Jobe, 2018, 4, 109
Daniel Wright, 2017, 4, 122
Marcus Banks, 2019, 4, 127
Eddie Smith, 2018, 3, 435
Xavier McKinney, 2017, 4, 58
Shyheim Carter, 2016, 4, 71
Trevon Diggs, 2016, 4, 115
Jared Mayden, 2016, 4, 145
Jahquez Robinson, 2020, 4, 303
Ronald Williams, 2020, 4, 13 (Juco)
Brian Branch, 2020, 4, 58
Malachi Moore, 2020, 4, 178
Incoming Athlete (initial position to be decided)
Kristian Story, 2020, 4, 208
* Rankings are 247composite; *-indicates ranking was at another position
This is the sixth story in a series on BamaCentral: