We are three practices into the spring semester for Alabama football and Nick Saban has already handed out compliments to a few players. He has been pleased with the focus and intensity thus far, but the Crimson Tide is also trying to develop depth at certain positions.
After a monster sophomore year, Xavier McKinney is the program’s leader in the secondary at strong safety. As a first-year starter in 2018, he compiled 74 tackles – including six for loss and three sacks. The native Georgian and former four-star turned in 10 pass breakups, two interceptions, two quarterback pressures and two forced fumbles through 15 games.
He helped Alabama earn a Southeastern Conference Championship; however, McKinney had Deionte Thompson next to him at free safety to assist him. With Thompson headed to the National Football League, Saban wants to locate the next alpha personality in the back five.
“Depth at safety is an issue,” Saban said on Wednesday.
“We got some young guys coming in next year and they are going to have an opportunity to contribute and we got to get the guys that we have here now playing better with more consistency.”
The trio of guys Saban referred to in the latter portion of his statement were Jared Mayden, Daniel Wright and Eddie Smith. Mayden totaled 18 tackles as a junior and he has the ideal size at 6-1/197 pounds, but has to make that turn in becoming an elite coverage defender.
For Wright, all the tools to be special are there.
He’s a natural headhunter with long arms to defend talented wide receivers. Staying healthy and being in compliance with Saban are both aspects of Wright that he must excel at. When it comes to Smith, the three-star from Louisiana in the 2018 class has a chance to surprise people.
The 6-foot, 190-pounder has strong tackling skills and explosive ball skills.
Should it come to younger players, freshmen DeMarcco Hellams and Jordan Battle have a great chance to come in and steal a spot. Battle, a four-star from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Florida, has the range at 6-foot-1 and 187 pounds that rivals Thompson at safety for Alabama.
Regardless of who wins out, the individual has to match McKinney’s intensity.
“Xavier has done a great job,” Saban said.
“He’s had a great offseason. I think he was one of the best performers each week that we did the offseason program for four weeks. You couldn’t ask for a guy to set a better example. His practice habits have been phenomenal. He’s doing everything he can to set a good example and be the leader for other players.”
Alabama will have its fourth practice on Saturday and with the A-Day Game in three weeks, we shall continue to see who will step up and develop at safety.
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