Alabama Crimson Tide Football: Rough Weather Ahead in the Secondary

Walter KirkwoodAnalyst IApril 12, 2010

Batten down the hatches,  there's a storm coming this fall, and the Crimson Tide are sailing right into the middle of it.   

Though the roster reads well from a raw talent standpoint, it also reads as inexperienced, untested, and unproven, particularly in the secondary. 

So how did Alabama, the defending national champions, get to the point where walk-ons might actually have to play?

Lets review the last 18 months: In February of 2009 super recruit Greg Reid of Valdosta, Georgia was ready to pull the trigger on the Crimson Tide.  While there are conflicting stories, it appears a family member pushed him at the last minute to sign with Florida State.  

Greg Reid went on to have a great freshman season for the Seminoles, amassing 23 tackles and two picks.  Reid would most definitely be in the mix for a starting position today if he had enrolled with the Tide.

After a national championship season, junior corner Kareem Jackson opted to enter the NFL draft.  Some questioned the move, but after excellent combine numbers he could go in the first round.  We all wish him luck, but we lost a good one and it hurts.

Shortly after beginning the off-season program it was announced that experienced safety Robby Green had been suspended for a violation of NCAA rules. This past week it was confirmed that he has lost eligibility for 2010.

One year after losing Reid, Alabama just lost another top defensive back talent Keenan Allen late in the recruiting process to Cal.

Coach Nick Saban was disappointed in losing Allen, but like always he had a backup plan. That plan was Dequan Menzie, a highly rated junior college defensive back who should have been able to provide help immediately to the depleted corner position.

Unfortunately, Menzie was not going to arrive soon enough for spring practice, but with experience in junior college, most believed he would step right in this fall.  

However, as luck would have it, Dequan was playing basketball instead of covering receivers and ruptured his Achilles tendon, thus ending any realistic chance of contributing in 2010.

Nick Saban is without question one of the best defensive back coaches in America.  Many consider him the authority on the position,but at this point even he must be starting to feel the walls close in on him.

So who is left? and what can Alabama fans expect?

Alabama essentially starts three corners;two standard corners and a nickel.   

Alabama's most experienced player is Dre Kirkpatrick, who played well though sparingly last year, he will start at one spot. 

Burton Scott was a five star athlete in high school that spent his first year at receiver.  He made the switch to defensive back his second season and took a redshirt year to learn the position.  By all accounts, he has improved his understanding and is most likely going to start opposite Dre Kirkpatrick.     

Phelon Jones is a junior transfer from LSU.  He played some nickel as a freshman with the Tigers and was seemingly doing well, but defensive coaching changes resulted in Jones looking elsewhere to finish his career.  

Jones is battling with Scott for the starting corner spot, but the loser here will be playing nickel so the end result will be that both players will essentially be starters.

All three of these corners have talent,  but little to no experience. To make matters worse the only players currently providing competition are two true freshman and some walk-ons.

The two freshman are DeMarcus Milliner and John Fulton.  If there was any thought to redshirting them before, it's gone now.  If they aren't in traction this fall, they will not redshirt.

Alabama will bring in three more true freshman this summer and fall. Deion Belue looks like a longer term project and was likely signed more for his return skills. Belue may have problems getting past the NCAA clearinghouse as well.

Nick Perry is an excellent safety prospect.  It might be possible to switch him to corner, but Alabama is only slightly better off at safety than they are at corner. 

Jarrick Williams is another safety and is too big for corner,  in fact if he gets much heavier he may end up at linebacker. 

I expect freshman athlete Blake Sims could end up at corner as well but he played quarterback in high school so there is little to no chance he could help this year.

The situation at safety is almost as bad.

Alabama returns its lone proven commodity in Mark Barron. In only his second season starting he is now the team's secondary veteran.  

With Green gone for the year, former special teamers Rod Woodson and Robert Lester are fighting it out for the other spot. So far, neither has seized the opportunity. 

As an emergency option, Nick Saban has been rotating receivers Kendell Kelly and Brandon Gibson at safety all spring.   

Alabama signed four receivers as part of the 2010 class.  If any of them so much as miss a pass this fall they could find themselves on defense.  For these young players, looking up to a long list of talented players ahead of them at wide receiver, the switch to defensive back could put them on the field sooner rather than later.

With so little experience in the secondary Alabama will not be able to afford to play containment defense.  The front seven must attack the passer.  Giving a quarterback time will prove fatal, especially early in the season.

For the fans in the stands,  Get ready for some "Oh Crap" moments.  They are coming.  The players we have are talented, but they are going to have to learn on the fly, and that means they are going to get schooled at times. 

Alabama will improve over time because of talent and because they are being coached by the best,  but there is no substitute or shortcut for experience in the secondary. 

On the flip side Alabama fans may see more firepower on offense. The staff knows no lead will be safe and Alabama may have to play from behind. Red zone efficiency will be key as Alabama also graduated its All-American place kicker.  

All eyes will be on early games against Penn State, Arkansas, and Florida.  Alabama's rebuilt secondary will be tested; can they pass the test?  The answer may dictate Alabama's fate in 2010.

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