TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick was back where he believes he belongs as the Crimson Tide opened spring practice this week.
As a true freshman, Fitzpatrick lined up at nickel defensive back (star) because Alabama had Cyrus Jones and Marlon Humphrey manning the cornerback spots for its 2015 national championship team.
Last season, Fitzpatrick seamlessly made the transition to safety after Eddie Jackson broke a leg against Texas A&M.
Now, Fitzpatrick is back at cornerback ahead of his junior season.
There was no big conversation before Fitzpatrick made the move back to corner. He walked into a meeting and saw “29, left corner” on Alabama’s “rep chart.”
“This year, I’m at where I feel most comfortable really,” Fitzpatrick said Thursday. “Coach trusts me to be out there, and I’m doing a good job out there so hopefully I get to stay there.”
The move again comes somewhat out of necessity. With Humphrey moving on to the NFL, Alabama has an inexperienced group of cornerbacks other than returning starter Anthony Averett and Tony Brown, who played nickel defensive back last season.
“It’s nice to have a guy like that if somebody came through as a starting corner he could play someplace else,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said of Fitzpatrick. “If somebody came through as a really good safety then you could feel comfortable leaving him at corner. It’s really unique to have a guy that’s as smart as he is and has a good understanding of the game that really can play all those positions.”
Changing from cornerback to safety wasn’t as easy as Fitzpatrick made it look last season.
Fitzpatrick spent extra time in the film room with Saban and defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley to learn the position as well as which calls to make. Fitzpatrick said the biggest difference between the positions is that at corner, you’re on your own with your man. At safety, you’re more responsible for the secondary as a whole in terms of making calls and adjustments.
Fitzpatrick finished fourth on the team last season with 66 tackles. He added five tackles for loss, one sack and one forced fumble.
Fitzpatrick’s team-high six interceptions was tied for seventh in the country.
Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley has been opposite Fitzpatrick in practice since the two arrived as 5-star prospects in Alabama’s 2015 recruiting class.
“The first time I saw him when we got to camp I just knew that guy was good and he just works really hard, and he still does the same things he did then,” Ridley said.
Along with this new position, Fitzpatrick must assume a bigger leadership role. Fitzpatrick easily is the most experienced player in Alabama’s secondary after two years as a starter.
He’s ready to set an example for both the younger and older members of Alabama’s defense.
“Minkah, he’s really smart and I think he takes on the role of being like a real student of the game,” Alabama defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne said. “When we’re out there on the field, you can trust him — trust that he knows what he’s doing and that he’s going to execute the job.”