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The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

New kids on the block: 3 Alabama defenders make Crimson Tide debut

Courtesy of UA Athletics
Alabama defensive backs Kool-Aid McKinstry (#1), Terrion Arnold (#3) and Jaylen Key (#6) celebrates Key’s interception with teammates in a game vs. Middle Tennessee on Sept. 2 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Key was one of five transfers Alabama added this offseason.

Not only did Alabama make its 2023 debut, but three vital defensive players took their first snaps with the Crimson Tide as Alabama routed Middle Tennessee State 56-7 in the opener. 

 Five-star freshman defensive back Caleb Downs has garnered abundant hype this offseason and proved it correct, taking 55 snaps in his debut. UAB transfer defensive back Jaylen Key created a turnover in his premiere game. Lastly, Georgia transfer linebacker Trezmen Marshall took his first snaps in a Crimson Tide uniform. Here is an in-depth look at how these three defenders performed in Week 1. 

 Caleb Downs, DB 

At SEC media days this past July, Alabama star edge rusher Dallas Turner said true freshman Caleb Downs has a lot of potential. 

“Caleb has all the possibilities to be an immediate impact player,” Turner said. “[Downs is] physically gifted, very smart, very cerebral on the field.” 

 After Downs’ debut, it seems Turner was right. 

 Hailing from Mill Creek High School in Hoschton, Georgia, Downs made his first start as a freshman against Middle Tennessee. For his opening game, the DB earned SEC Co-Freshman of the Week honors. 

 Downs arrived in Tuscaloosa in early 2023, quickly making headlines for his strong play in spring practice through fall camp. He fought to the top of the depth chart to become a rare freshman starter on head coach Nick Saban’s team. 

 In the five-star’s debut, Downs recorded eight tackles and allowed two receptions and 14 yards on four targets.  

 Taking 55 total snaps, Downs was a Swiss Army knife for defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, recording over 10 snaps each in the slot, box and at free safety positions. 

 Saban said he was pleased with the freshman’s ability to adapt.  

 “I think Caleb played really well,” Saban said. “That was a really challenging game, especially for a young player with all the formations and adjustments that we had to make. I think he handled it really, really well.” 

 Downs will be a crucial player in Week 2 as the visiting Texas Longhorns boast a talented arsenal of offensive weapons, with names like Xavier Worthy, Isaiah Neyor, Adonai Mitchell and Ja’Tavion Sanders coming to Tuscaloosa.  

 Jaylen Key, DB  

Coming from around one hour down the road, UAB transfer safety Jaylen Key has already shown his veteran presence for the Crimson Tide. 

 The Florida native was a crucial player for the Blazers in 2022, totaling 56 tackles and five turnovers in 14 games, earning Honorable Mention All-Conference USA honors this year.  

 Since Alabama lost multiple defensive backs in the offseason, the Crimson Tide will ask Key to step up and play a vital role on the defense’s back end.  

 “A big question mark entering the year for Alabama was safeties,” Pro Football Focus College Football Analyst Max Chadwick said. “Despite this, I was super impressed by Jaylen Key. He looked fantastic, especially in coverage.” 

Slotting in as a starter for Alabama in Game 1, Key played 31 snaps, including as a slot corner. During his time against Middle Tennessee, Key allowed zero yards in pass coverage and caught an interception late in the second quarter.  

In the above, the Blue Raiders ran a switch concept play where the two outside wide receivers swapped sides on the release. Key identified the route combination and anticipated the pass, forcing his first takeaway this season. 

 Key exited the game shortly after his turnover, suffering an injury on special teams. Saban stated on Monday that his status is considered “day-to-day.”  

 Trezmen Marshall, redshirt senior and Georgia transfer, LB  

Transfer linebacker Trezmen Marshall brings the exact championship pedigree that Alabama’s program stands on. 

 Recruited by the Crimson Tide out of Clinch County High School in Homerville, Georgia, the former four-star committed to the University of Georgia over Alabama in 2018. Five years later, Marshall is transferring in to join the Crimson Tide.  

 Marshall, a redshirt senior, played mainly as a reserve player for the Bulldogs over the past two seasons, contributing to their back-to-back national titles. Finishing with 19 total tackles and one sack in 2022, Marshall is poised to play a more prominent role in Tuscaloosa than he did in Athens.  

 Due to his aforementioned winning mentality, Marshall sits as Alabama’s starting middle linebacker. 

 “Marshall has been a good addition for us,” Saban said on Hey Coach & The Nick Saban Show. “He’s got a lot of maturity, he’s got some experience.”  

 In the opener versus middle Tennessee, Marshall recorded four tackles. In his 30 snaps, the former Bulldog looked explosive.  

 Marshall did get dinged up early in the game, causing him to rotate around with fellow linebacker Kendrick Blackshire. The redshirt senior played through the injury, suggesting that he may be OK. 

 Downs, Key and Marshall are set to play distinct but equally essential roles in their debut season at the Capstone. 

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