All eyes will be on the QB battle, but Alabama’s secondary deserves its share of attention


Ben Stansell

When preseason camp opens tomorrow, the microscope of media and fan attention will be acutely focused on the same thing it has been focused on since red and white confetti fell in Mercedes-Benz stadium in January: the quarterback competition between Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts.

Although the fate of Alabama’s quarterback position will steal the headlines, the real story may be on the opposite side of the ball, where positional battles that may prove to be just as important to the Crimson Tide’s overall success will be waged.

A group of inexperienced defensive backs will spend camp trying to not only prove that they should start, but that they can help maintain the success of a unit that lost six – yes, six – of its top contributors last season.

While it is safe to assume Alabama’s offense will be productive regardless of which signal-caller gets the nod, the same cannot be said about the secondary. At this points, one of the only few certainties is redshirt junior safety Deionte Thompson.

Of the Crimson Tide’s defensive backs returning this year, Thompson, measuring in at 6-foot-2 and weighing 196 pounds, has played the most meaningful minutes. Thompson saw the field in all 14 games last season, but more importantly, he started in both the Sugar Bowl against Clemson and the National Championship against Georgia, filling in for the injured Hootie Jones. In those two high-pressure games, Thompson exceeded expectations, amassing seven tackles and one pass break-up while showing an ability to come down and make plays near the line of scrimmage.

Thompson has solidified himself as the experienced leader of the secondary, but what other players will join him is still up for debate.

Sophomore Xavier McKinney is poised to start next to Thompson at the other safety position after working with the second team defense last season and then starting in the A-Day game. Sophomore Daniel Wright and junior Jared Mayden are other players to keep an eye on, as they are also vying for contributing roles.

Heading into preseason, junior Trevon Diggs and JUCO transfer Saivion Smith are projected to compose Alabama’s starting cornerback duo. Diggs started his Alabama career playing both sides of the ball before dedicating his talents solely to defense last year. The 6-foot-2 199-pound former wide receiver started at one of the corner spots in Alabama’s season opener last season, but was quickly supplanted by Levi Wallace. Of all of the Crimson Tide defensive backs, Diggs might have the most to prove.

One of the top-rated cornerbacks in the class of 2016, Smith originally played at LSU, but wound up spending last year at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Once he arrived in Tuscaloosa, Smith secured one of the starting cornerback spots in the A-Day game.

Junior Shyheim Carter is looking to make the leap into the Crimson Tide’s starting unit as well. After appearing in all 14 games last season, primarily on special teams, Carter was the first defensive back to come onto the field when Alabama went to its nickel and dime packages.

Even though Diggs, Smith and Carter have the fast-track to the starting cornerback jobs, several freshman defensive backs are anticipated to challenge them, especially 6-foot-2, 202-pound Patrick Surtain Jr., the top ranked cornerback prospect in the 2018 class. Newcomers Josh Jobe, Jalyn Armour-Davis and Eddie Smith will all compete as well.

With so many unknowns in Alabama’s secondary, first-year defensive backs coach Karl Scott is faced with a tall-task, albeit a surplus of talent and potential to work with. Scott’s ability to develop and employ that talent will be critical factor in Alabama’s ability to remain one of the most feared defenses in the country.