Stuart McNair

Defensive back departures could affect Alabama depth

Alabama Coach Nick Saban concentrates on available players, not losses

Alabama Coach Nick Saban is likely to address the situation of Kendall Sheffield having reportedly left the Crimson Tide when Saban meets with reporters following practice Tuesday evening. In any event, our guess at a depth chart from the end of spring practice until the end of fall camp has had some changes in the secondary.


Since the end of spring practice, three defensive backs – assuming Sheffield is gone for good – have left the program. In addition to Sheffield (a redshirt freshman cornerback), Bama has seen the departure of sophomore Shawn Burgess-Becker last spring and the much-discussed transfer of senior Maurice Smith to Georgia this summer.


With the exception of Smith, who was expected to move into the Star (nickel back) position vacated by the move of soph Minkah Fitzpatrick to right cornerback, the losses affect depth rather than projected starting assignments.


Statistically, Smith had contributed the most in his three-year career – 19 primary tackles and 19 assists, a fumble recovery last year against Auburn, and five passes broken up. Burgess-Becker had three tackles last year, all on special teams. Sheffield had not played.

Don’t expect Saban to say much about the situation. His stance is that the coaching staff will work with those who are on the team rather than concern themselves with those who have gone.


In a so-called normal four-deep secondary, the projected starters are the same with or without the three losses.


Marlon Humphrey is the returning starter at left cornerback, Fitzpatrick has moved to right cornerback to replace the graduated Cyrus Jones, Eddie Jackson returns as the all-star safety, and Ronnie Harrison showed star potential at strong safety last year in relief of Gino Matias-Smith and as the Money (dime back).


But Alabama plays against almost all opponents with a five-man secondary, which means that for the immediate future – meaning this season – Smith is clearly the biggest loss.


Because nickel is reportedly more difficult to learn than cornerback, a possibility is that Fitzpatrick returns to nickel with someone else taking over at cornerback. Saban had said earlier in fall camp that Fitzpatrick has been practicing at both positions. (Saban also said he would prefer not to have a player working at both.)


Although Sheffield had not yet played, he was expected to be close to the playing rotation at cornerback, in part depending on how junior Anthony Averett is used. The speedy Averett was impressive in the spring and is a possibility at cornerback, nickel, and/or dime.


Summer talk that was reinforced by comments from Alabama veterans during Southeastern Conference Media Days is that one of the most impressive incoming freshmen has been cornerback Shyheim Carter. In fall camp, another freshman cornerback who has been mentioned is Nigel Knott. Their performances may have had an effect on Sheffield.


Also in the freshman class, rated Jared Mayden as the nation’s No. 4 cornerback, and Aaron Robinson arrived as one of the South’s top cornerback prospects. Not to put too much stock in last spring’s A-Day Game, but junior walkon Levi Wallace had a good day.


Burgess-Becker did not make a move towards the top as a safety candidate in the spring as Jackson is backed by an outstanding athlete in redshirt freshman Deionte Thompson and Harrison by junior Hootie Jones.


Alabama will issue an official depth chart on the Monday before Bama’s season-opener against Southern Cal, but as Saban has pointed out it won’t mean a great deal. The Tide coach has a disdain for the depth chart and has pointed out that even the one reporters will get on Aug. 29 is good only for one day, that it is subject to change with every practice and every game.

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