Former Alabama standouts Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner and Landon Collins all knew their roles when it came to supplying leadership in the secondary.
Every head coach in college football has a mantra, and Alabama’s Nick Saban is no different. Saban’s moniker “Make His Ass Quit” serves a purpose on all sides of the football.
On offense, it’s impose your will on the opponent and break its spirit. On special teams, it’s about being fundamentally sound and creating field position. For defense, Saban’s catch phrase is self-explanatory. Alabama is to be physical, well-conditioned and instinctive.
The four players listed above all got an opportunity as freshmen. Each one handled business and make Saban’s words a part of their everyday life. The sun will shine on two newcomers this season, as true freshmen defensive backs Ronnie Harrison and Minkah Fitzpatrick seek playing time. Both guys have impressed Saban, his staff and their teammates.
Size is not coachable, and at 6-foot-3, 218 pounds, Harrison has the frame to be a productive strong safety. He accounted for one of six interceptions for Alabama’s defense in its spring game, and had 14 career pass breakups at Florida State (Fla.) University School in Tallahassee.
Fitzpatrick wasn’t an early enrollee; however, his feel for the game mentally has drawn Saban to him. Fitzpatrick was a five-star prospect according to Rivals.com and Scout.com.
A native of Old Bridge, N.J., he logged 122 career tackles, 33 pass breakups and nine interceptions at St. Peter’s Prep School. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound freshman has been getting reps at Money in Alabama’s first-team dime package.
Coach Saban normally wants freshmen to concentrate on one role, whether it’s at cornerback, Money, Star, dimeback or nickelback. In this case, however, Fitzpatrick is absorbing everything.
He’s been used in multiple positions throughout practice to find the best case scenario. Fitzpatrick is battling true sophomore Tony Brown for a spot at corner, and has an edge on redshirt freshman Marlon Humphrey (second-team corner in practice).
Saban didn’t shy away from complimenting the freshman after Saturday’s scrimmage.
“Minkah has done a really, really good job in the secondary,” Saban said.
Cyrus Jones, Eddie Jackson and Geno Smith should provide all the leadership in the secondary. Junior defensive back Maurice Smith plays with a lot range, and senior cornerback Bradley Sylve will have opportunities in certain situations. If two freshmen were to start or at least see adequate playing time on defense, it would be Harrison and Fitzpatrick.
According to a tweet from Aaron Suttles of Tuscaloosa News, Maurice Smith told him how he felt about Harrison.
How fast has true freshman Ronnie Harrison picked up the defense? "He’s basically almost like a sophomore in his mind." — Maurice Smith
— Aaron Suttles (@AaronSuttles) August 16, 2015
With more juniors and redshirt sophomores declaring for the NFL Draft, it would only be a matter of time before college football fans starting seeing freshmen emerge.
Alabama has two in its secondary that could make some noise this season.