Alabama Football: Replacing Minkah and 5 more DB’s is no small task

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 08: Xavian Marks
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 08: Xavian Marks /

The Alabama football dime defense in 2017 was staffed by six players who have moved on from the Crimson Tide. A total rebuild of the Tide’s secondary is required for 2018.

Alabama football fans are not accustomed to any component of the Crimson Tide’s football machine needing a rebuild. Since 2009, the recruiting wizardry of Nick Saban has allowed the team to reload in the offseason. That is not true for the 2018 Alabama football secondary.

Saban’s defensive plans in recent seasons rely more on nickel and dime defenses than the base 3-4. The sets require five or six secondary players. As a result, the dime defense includes six ‘starters’ that last season were Minkah Fitzpatrick, Anthony Averett, Levi Wallace, Ronnie Harrison, Tony Brown and Hootie Jones. None of them return for 2018.

Hootie Jones was hurt in the Auburn game and was out for the rest of the season. He was replaced by Deionte Thompson. Although Thompson’s game experience is limited, he can technically be considered a returning starter. Is he entrenched after starting two games as the Tide’s sixth defensive back? Probably, but he will have to earn a starting assignment in either nickel or base.

New Tide defensive backs coach, Karl Scott

New Tide defensive backs coach, Karl Scott and his ‘assistant’ Nick Saban will spend the offseason determining six new starters and a backup for each. The 2018 Tide secondary will be populated with 14 players. Five of the 14 are new players but only one, JUCO transfer Saivion Smith will participate this spring.

In the breakdown below the standard position titles of free safety and strong safety are used. Nick Saban often refers to the two positions as the boundary safety and field safety. The complex Alabama football pass defense schemes create varied alignments and assignments. The combinations defy a simple description but as a starting point, the free safety is more responsible for deep passes, while the strong safety more often plays closer to the line of scrimmage to help stop the run.

Spring 2018 Defensive Backs

  • Deionte Thompson (Redshirt Junior) – probable starting free safety
  • Savion Smith (Junior, JUCO transfer) – possible starting strong safety
  • Xavier McKinney (Sophomore) – safety or money
  • Daniel Wright (Sophomore) safety or money or star
  • Shyheim Carter (Junior) – probable starter at star
  • Trevon Diggs (Junior) – probable starter at cornerback
  • Keaton Anderson (Redshirt Junior) – safety
  • Jared Mayden (Junior) – cornerback
  • Nigel Knott (Redshirt Sophomore) – cornerback
  • Kyriq McDonald (Redshirt Freshman) – safety

2018 Summer Enrollees

  • Patrick Surtain Jr. (Freshman) – possible starting cornerback
  • Josh Jobe (Freshman) – cornerback or safety
  • Jalyn Armour-Davis (Freshman) – cornerback
  • Eddie Smith (Freshman) – cornerback

Nick Saban does not redshirt players who can contribute as freshmen. McKinney and Wright, for example, played as special teams starters in 2017. However, if a player needs to physically mature, holding him back for a season can be necessary. During his recruitment, Jalyn Armour-Davis said he was willing to redshirt in 2018.

One thought on the minds of many Alabama football fans is replacing Minkah Fitzpatrick. Minkah could play all six secondary positions. Daniel Wright is the player most likely to exhibit similar versatility. Wright has trained at multiple positions. According to, Wright said,

"he could play four positions in the secondary including the star, money, and strong and free safety"

Former Alabama football secondary coach Derrick Ansley talked about Wright and McKinney before he left the Tide for the NFL.

"We feel really good about those guys moving forward. They both can play multiple positions. The more we feed them, the more they’re going to develop in the future"

What can Alabama football fans expect?

A less experienced secondary invariably carries increased probability for missed assignments and mental breakdowns. Who can fill the leadership roles vacated by the exits of Minkah and Ronnie Harrison? Thompson and Smith will be expected to fill those voids. Can a late-arriving freshman earn a starting cornerback role? That question will remain unanswered for months.

Next: Who steps up on the D-Line?

Despite the wholesale changes in the secondary, Alabama football fans should not panic. The 2018 group is filled with a bevy of talent.