With presumed starting nickel corner Geno Smith suspended for Saturday’s season opener, the spotlight will fall on veteran defensive back Jarrick Williams as he steps into the role against Virginia Tech.
Part of what makes Nick Saban a secondary guru is his practice of cross-training his players to be able to fill multiple roles. Due to Saban’s teaching principles, the Tide have the luxury of plugging in an experienced player in Williams to fill that void against the Hokies.
With Williams set to see his first meaningful action since tearing his ACL prior to last season, what can Tide fans expect to see from the rising junior?
Williams will become the Tide’s “star,” which means he will be the first defensive back to enter the game in nickel and dime looks. The 6’1”, 210-pounder has appeared in 11 games in his career, and as a fourth-year junior, he has plenty of experience in Saban’s system.
As Don Kausler Jr. of AL.com notes, prior to last season, Saban described what he looks for in a player who lines up at “star.”
“You can be a really good Star and not have the long speed to be a good corner. Long speed being that if a guy runs a takeoff on you, you have to run and not get out run when the ball is in the air. If you have really good quickness and cover ability, the slot guy (receiver) has a hard time beating you in that position, because he's closer to the safeties, he's closer to the middle of the field. So a good tackler, a good blitzer, a good cover guy on a slot player, which is different than a good cover guy on an outside player.”
"Jarrick Williams has had a fantastic camp so far and is going to get some opportunity to play this year. We’re excited about it. He really feels comfortable and confident in what he’s doing. He’s playing in nickel and dime and also in safety, so he’s got a lot of multiple roles on the team and he’s really done a good job."
—Alabama coach Nick Saban via Andrew Gribble of AL.com
“He was out there with the ones in the nickel, so he got his chance to shine. Basically, he just has to keep going at it.”
—Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley talking about the opportunity Williams has in front of him, via Cliff Kirkpatrick of the Montgomery Advertiser
Williams’ primary position in the secondary is safety. The star position is a spot that requires versatility.
Saban prefers to have players in that spot who are equally adept at covering slot receivers or blitzing off the edge. The main adjustment for Williams will be covering receivers who likely excel in matchups against bigger defensive backs.
Considering how Saban has raved about his play in camp, he appears to be ideally suited to handle the responsibilities of filling in for Smith.
Predictions for Jarrick Williams in 2013: 35 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and two pass break-ups
Even after Smith’s suspension is lifted following the opener against the Hokies, Williams is a player who should find the field often due to his versatility and experience.
As Gribble noted, Williams has drawn praise from Saban for his ability to perform well in multiple roles.
Regardless of Smith’s role moving forward, Williams appears to have earned an opportunity to be a regular contributor this season.