The Alabama Football secondary was atrocious last season in comparison to Nick Saban’s standards.
There, I said it.
Now I know some of you are already ready to throw all of these facts and comments at me, but you must understand—sometimes, it’s “OK” for younger players to make mistakes.
Remember the development of a clueless Marquis Johnson after a pure meltdown in the 2008 SEC Championship game?
The next season, Johnson became a better coached player and passed many island tests during the SEC stretch. Most memorable: at Mississippi State, when Dan Mullen tried him multiple times and failed.
After extensive work, Saban turned Johnson into a sound and complete player. The work then paid off with Johnson being drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2010.
So, Alabama fans, there is no reason for worry. Nick Saban specializes in defensive backs, and this may possibly be his best secondary ever.
This slideshow will preview the Alabama secondary going into the 2011 season.
The free safety position in a Nick Saban scheme has been a huge learning curve for some players. The position has a focus on defending the deepest end of the field helping the cornerbacks. Anything over the top must be taken care of, and the player must have his head on a swivel roaming the field from sideline to sideline.
Finishing with 52 tackles, Robert Lester (6’2’’ 210 pounds) prospered at the safety position next to strong safety Mark Barron. Even after gaining second team All-America honors from the Walter Camp foundation, there is a lot of room for improvement.
Lester must continue to learn how to be in the right place at the right time and improve his speed closing in on the football. Although Lester finished with an SEC best eight interceptions, don't expect for those numbers to inflate like that again in 2011.
Behind him this season will be incoming freshman Ha’Sean Clinton Dix and sophomore Kendall Kelly. Dix has a lot of fanfare coming into Tuscaloosa and looks to be another well coached Saban protégé.
The strong safety in a Nick Saban defense must be aggressive and tackle well. Usually, this position offers run support and has the ability to play multiple positions closer to the line of scrimmage. A strong safety must also have the ability to watch multiple players, looking for any running back or full back attempting to receive a pass out of the backfield.
Mark Barron (6'2'', 218 pounds) had the choice to enter the 2011 NFL Draft, but he chose to stay in Tuscaloosa for another season. Though finishing his season with a injury versus Auburn, Barron rose to the top of the Crimson Tide defense, obtaining 75 tackles in 2010.
With a great physical build, Barron can not only play safety, but he can man the outside linebacker position in several packages.
The only knock on Barron is that he must regain his 2009 form when he led the SEC in interceptions and electrified fans with his all around mature presence. Coming back from a torso injury, the Crimson Tide faithful expect Barron to once again lead the defensive explosion in Nick Saban’s complex defensive scheme.
Replacing him on the second string is Hoover, Alabama native Will Lowery (5’10’’, 180 pounds). Lowery finished last season with 33 tackles and has become a well coached player who won't commit many errors in the secondary.
Though Lowery won’t see the field as much in 2011, the kid has quite a heart being the dreaded walk-on at the University. Look for him to contribute when the ‘Bama defense heads towards five or six cornerback packages.
In a zone defense, the corner back is assigned to a specific part of the field. Though it can be a more relaxed scheme, it can become more complex in terms of logistics. Coach Saban here at the University has brought in a number of schemes (Cover 7 ‘MOD’ , ‘Zombie’) for players to use, and many have flourished within the system. A corner back at Alabama must have great ball instincts and have the athleticism to cover large receivers down the field.
Dre Kirkpatrick (6’2’’, 192 pounds) is the prototypical specimen physically, but so far, he only looks the part and has a lot of growing up to do.
At times last season, you could still sense there was a learning curve as Kirkpatrick made mistakes in defensive assignments. But many would argue his play has improved, as he finished fourth on the team in tackles in 2010.
Look, lets be honest—this is Dre Kirkpatrick’s draft year, but we still continue to notice little immature things about him, and to many of the Alabama students, it continues to bug us.
If Kirkpatrick can control his emotions and step into a leadership role for the Alabama defense, expect a more productive fall and also improving his already-top 10 NFL Draft stock.
This must be the year that Dee Milliner (6'1'', 196 pounds) steps into a leadership role for the Alabama defense playing the cover corner spot.
Last season, Milliner finished fourth on the team in tackles with 55 and second on the team with seven pass break-ups. In 2011, he must produce a better effort on island alone, or he will get eaten alive by bigger opponents.
Want me to name a few players of size he may be going against? Sure.
6'4" Rueben Randle Jr. of LSU
6'3" Greg Childs of Arkansas
6'3" Cobi Hamilton of LSU
6'3" Justin Brown of Penn State
6'2" Chris Smith Jr. of Mississippi State
6'6" Melvin Harris of Ole Miss
If Milliner begins to struggle early, look for up and coming star DeQuan Menzie to take his place.
Backing up DeMarcus Milliner, DeQuan Menzie (6'0'', 198 pounds) looks to play a vital role in the strength of Alabama’s secondary attack.
His presence will provide depth when Alabama moves into multiple cornerback packages.
In my opinion, Menzie’s best fit would be inside of a nickel defense within Nick Saban’s scheme. His awareness and nose for the football enables him to make many tackles near the line of scrimmage.
Though just having 33 tackles, Menzie finished with four pass break-ups, a number that ranked fourth on the team in 2010.
Look for Menzie to contribute effectively off the bench this fall.
This is the year we begin to see better things from senior Phelon Jones (5’11’’, 194 pounds).
According to AL.com, Rivals ranked him the 10th-best corner in the country, while Scout.com had him at No. 13. After narrowing down his choices, he initially chose LSU. Now, after transferring from Louisiana State and sitting out in 2009, look for Mobile native Phelon Jones to step into a nickel back role in 2011.
As for experience, Jones played in nine games and made 15 tackles for the Crimson Tide last year. His numbers look to improve if he can begin to tweak a few rough areas of work. If he adjusts his tackling technique more, look for him to get more snaps in several dime packages.