TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama football cornerback Anthony Averett has noticed a role reversal on the Crimson Tide’s defense ahead of this season.
With all the talent Alabama’s front seven lost, the secondary is now the most experienced unit on the defense.
Compare that to last year when Averett was in his first season as a starter. Marlon Humphrey, who was taken in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, had a year of starting experience, but was still considered young as a redshirt sophomore. While they played a lot as freshmen, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison were only sophomores in 2016.
This season, Averett believes Alabama’s secondary could be a strength of the defense, given how much experience Alabama football returns.
“It makes a big difference. Last year, Eddie [Jackson], he was pretty much the guy, among the older guys,” Averett said. “This year it’s me and Minkah and all the seniors, Tony [Brown]. All the seniors this year, it makes a big difference. It creates leadership. We need leadership, in the secondary or any type of defense, period.”
Averett returns as Alabama’s lockdown corner on the right side. In Alabama’s nickel lineup, Averett and Trevon Diggs are the corners, Harrison and Hootie Jones have been the safeties, and Fitzpatrick has lined up at Star (fifth defensive back). In dime, Brown comes on as the sixth defensive back to play Star or Money, depending on the alignment.
We’ve also seen Fitzpatrick at safety in nickel with Brown at Star. Deionte Thompson is another player fighting for a spot in the rotation. It’s worth noting that Alabama is trying out every possible lineup, so things could change before the opener vs. Florida State on Sept. 2.
The only new starting piece in Alabama’s secondary is Diggs. The sophomore moved to cornerback in the spring and has developed into a quality player at the position in a short amount of time.
Diggs’ size (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) and athleticism make him a natural at the position. Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley has noticed his growth at a new position.
“I think Diggs is a very good corner,” Ridley said. “I can honestly say he gives me a hard time, makes me better. He’s very long, he works hard, he doesn’t take too many plays off, so I think he’s going to do great. I’m rooting for him and I’m here for him.”
Diggs’ development has given Alabama the flexibility to move Fitzpatrick. Depending on the package, we could see Fitzpatrick at safety, Star (fifth defensive back) or Money (sixth defensive back).
Fitzpatrick has taken Diggs under his wing.
“He sits next to me in the meetings every day and he follows me around in meetings,” Fitzpatrick said. “He’s riding with me in the car asking questions whenever, because I played the position before and he knows I know what I’m doing so he trusts me asking me questions about it. He’s just soaking it all in trying to learn.”
Alabama’s top six or seven players in the secondary have experience, but there is a lot of youth behind them. The goal is to build more quality depth.
“I think that we have some good players in the secondary. I think the biggest focus I have is trying to get them in the right spots,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “How we match up the best. What kind of depth can we develop. That’s what I would be concerned with. It’s always good when you have players who have experience.
“They’re a little bit ahead in terms of what they’re doing, how you’re trying to do it, how they can help other players. I think their leadership can be instrumental in helping develop some of the other players, the young players who are most certainly going to have to play at some point in time during the season.”