TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Minkah Fitzpatrick made the minor gaffe when telling reporters that he was back at cornerback with the University of Alabama football team this spring.
“There was not a conversation,” said Fitzpatrick, who made a midseason switch to safety last year following Eddie Jackson’s leg fracture. “There was the depth chart in our film room and it was 29 at corner. That was it.”
Wait, depth chart? The thing that Nick Saban says doesn’t exist (yet)?
“Coach Saban calls it a rep chart, not a depth chart,” the All-American said with a smile due to the friendly prodding. “That was my mistake.”
Alabama’s had just two spring practices with no one in pads yet, and the season opener is still more than five months away. So we’re still a long way from having any firm decisions about how the Crimson Tide might line up against Florida State on Sept. 2 in Atlanta.
However, one thing that we did learn during this initial week of workouts is that Alabama’s overall depth might be unparalleled in college football — again.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t have some depth concerns. Every team does under the 85-man scholarship limit.
Where it especially stands out is at quarterback. Saban reminded everyone on Tuesday that he has only three, and combined they have one year of experience at the collegiate level.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Trevon Diggs is splitting reps at cornerback, a contingency precaution that Alabama has done before, and every coach will tell you that a team can’t have enough defensive linemen. Currently the Crimson Tide barely have enough.
“I think Isaiah Buggs can be a good player,” Saban said. “Da’Shawn Hand has been a good player for us. Da’Ron Payne has played a lot of football around here for two years and been a good player for us. Raekwon (Davis) played some last year. Quinnen Williams is going to have to play some. Josh Frazier played quite a bit last year.
“We’ve got a couple other freshmen coming in. I mean, they all need to get better and they all need to improve, but we’ve played with worse.”
Saban didn’t mean for that last part to be a slam on anyone, but it was his way of saying that replacing Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson won’t be easy.
But then one looks at the team in a broader sense and can’t help but be impressed.
A good example is the offensive line.
During Thursday’s viewing period for reporters (which was about 10 minutes, so it’s only a small sample of the entire practice), Brent Key ran his players through a drill in three waves with newcomers Alex Leatherwood and Eliot Baker in the back group, along with Josh Casher, who is coming off a foot injury.
How many teams would, or could do that?
Leatherwood was a prize 5-star recruit, rated the fourth best prospect in the nation according to the 247Sports composite rankings, and already the message is that he has to earn his spot. The same goes for the junior college transfer who was specifically brought in to compete for a starting job.
Alabama has to replace two of the five starters and Jonah Williams is apparently making the switch from right to left tackle, but even with those changes it’s not like the line is starting over.
“We did so much switching last year, we’re ready for any kind of substitution,” center Bradley Bozeman said. “It’s really the same guys from last year coming into the mix, and you just have to build on that.”
If you really want to know how good a team is, don’t look at the starters. Check out the reserves and see if they turn your head. Alabama’s do, at least physically.
For every 6-foot-7 lineman leading a drill, there’s another guy just as big behind him.
This team already goes three-deep across the board, and it’s a solid three deep as Saban has again assembled a roster made up almost exclusively of players who were considered 5- and 4-star prospects.
It has reserves who are more imposing than most opposing starters, and once again there will likely be some very good freshmen who will be redshirting in the fall.
It’s only been one week of spring football, but it all bodes well for another good season for the Crimson Tide.