TUSCALOOSA — If you look up the word rebuild, the definition should read like the following:
To build (something) again after it has been damaged or destroyed. “Nick Saban had to rebuild his entire secondary.”
This year, that would definitely hold true. With Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison having both declared themselves eligible for the 2018 NFL Draft, the University of Alabama football team has to replace all six starting defensive backs (the four base positions plus the nickel and dome spots known as star and money) and position coach Derrick Ansley.
Specifically, that’s cornerbacks Anthony Averett and Levi Wallace, Hootie Jones and Tony Brown, who were all seniors, along with the two safeties.
Harrison played in every game he was on the roster, and Fitzpatrick made 38 starts out of the 44 games he was with Alabama. Combined, the six played in 241 games, with 131 starts.
It’s absolutely the biggest key to Alabama’s defensive success next season.
“I think this secondary is going to be one to watch,” Harrison said. “As a DB unit, me and Minkah leaving, but there’s guys like Deionte (Thompson), who is going to step up, Shyheim Carter going to step up, Trevon Diggs, he’s played before. You have guys who have that potential to be that next great group.”
Here’s where Alabama stands with each defensive position group:
DEFENSIVE LINE (11)
Staying: LaBryan Ray, Raekwon Davis, Isaiah Buggs, Quinnen Williams and Johnny Dwight
Going: Da’Shawn Hand, Josh Frazier, Da’Ron Payne and Jamar King
Redshirt: Phidarian Mathis
Signed: Eyabi Anoma, Stephon Wynn, Jordan Davis, Cameron Latu and Christian Barmore
He can't, but if Raekwon Davis wanted to declare for the 2018 Draft, who would tell him he couldn't?
— Travis Reier (@travisreier) January 2, 2018
Alabama’s going to need some freshmen to contribute, which is not ideal up front, but Anoma is considered a consensus 5-star prospect with Wynn and Davis both high-end 4-star talents. Davis and Buggs both have great motors and Williams was a part of the regular rotation this season. Ray played in six games before being sidelined by a foot injury, but came back and was available in the playoff.
Staying: Ben Davis, Dylan Moses, Mack Wilson, Christian Miller, Terrell Lewis, VanDarius Cowan, Christopher Allen, Mekhi Brown, Anfernee Jennings, Joshua McMillon, Keith Holcombe, Jamey Mosley
Going: Rashaan Evans, Shaun Dion Hamilton
Redshirt: Markail Benton
Signed: Jarez Parks (grayshirt)
Terrell Lewis shared an emotional moment with injured teammate Anfernee Jennings after Alabama's win. pic.twitter.com/MDIVbjM0QQ
— ESPN (@espn) January 9, 2018
The one good thing about having so many linebackers suffer major injuries in 2017 is that a lot of young players already have experience. Filling in their development gaps will be an offseason priority, but if Moses stays in the interior he could be paired with Wilson on the first unit, with Jennings, Miller and Lewis the primary outside linebackers. Allen is a player to watch, especially as a pass-rusher.
Staying: Deionte Thompson, Xavier McKinney, Nigel Knott, Shyheim Carter, Trevon Diggs, Jared Mayden, Daniel Wright, Kyriq McDonald and Keaton Anderson.
Going: Tony Brown, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Hootie Jones, Anthony Averett, Levi Wallace and Ronnie Harrison
Signed: Josh Jobe, Jalyn Armour-Davis, Saivion Smith
Can we discuss how crazy the play Deionte Thompson made on this ball was? pic.twitter.com/Ktj4f8ulp2
— Ron Clark (@Buttie_Friend) January 10, 2018
Alabama hopes to add to this group on National Signing Day. It’ll be interesting to see who sort of emerges as the leader during the spring. Thompson filled in for Jones in the playoff, while Carter played some in the National Championship Game. Diggs figures to be anxious to show he’s ready to be a starter at cornerback. There’s going to be a lot of competition during the spring, but the player to watch is Smith. The junior college transfer worked with the team during its on-campus bowl practices and turned heads.