Stuart McNair

Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was a star at Star who found himself back at nickel for Alabama against Auburn

Alabama’s Fitzpatrick had a hand in secondary moves

Maybe it’s not a myth to say that when an Alabama player has to leave the game that Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban just plugs the hole with “another five-star.” But it is oversimplification, as seen last Saturday.
In last Saturday’s 30-12 win over Auburn to complete a 12-0 regular season, Alabama lost Tony Brown, who had taken over as the nickel back (Star in Bama nomenclature) in the Tide secondary this season. Alabama did have an All-America type to put at Star as Minkah Fitzpatrick had been stellar at that position as a freshman in 2015. But Fitzpatrick had been moved to safety this year, replacing All-America Eddie Jackson, who was lost for the year with a broken leg.
Moving to safety was Hootie Jones, another former five-star. But when the Tide had to go to its dime package — six defensive backs — there had to be another plug-in.
Saban and Defensive Coordinator Jeremy Pruitt went with redshirt freshman Deionte Thompson, a versatile athlete who has worked both at wide receiver and safety, but whose playing time had been primarily on special teams.
Fitzpatrick had some pull in that decision.
“I was the one who said that we should put DT in,” Fitzpatrick said. “Coach was like, ‘All right, we’re going to do it.’ I was talking to [Thompson] on the sideline and I was like, ‘It’s just another game of football.’ He was out there and he did a good job. I don’t think he had any mental errors so that was really good for him.”
Fitzpatrick didn’t take all the credit. “It wasn’t just me,” he said. “It was more than one person wanting him to go in. They were going back and forth and DT is in my class. And I have been really working with him and rooting for him all season and I was talking to Coach Pruitt and I was like, ‘Let’s put DT in.’ And we kind of all agreed and put him in.”
Fitzpatrick said Thompson was “nervous, but it was good for him to be out there.”
Fitzpatrick said it isn’t a problem for the next man to step up. “We have to work with what we have, and no matter who we have we always try to execute and do our job. I feel like no matter who you are or what rank you are, or this and that, if you just do your job and do what you’re supposed to do you’re going to be able to play and play well.”
As for making the move back to Star, Fitzpatrick said, “It’s just adding to my versatility and showing how versatile I am. I wasn’t expecting it. But you just got to do what coach asks me to do and I did a pretty good job. Coach was happy with what I did.
“It wasn’t that bad because that was where I played at originally. Safety was my second spot. So, going to Star was kind of just like being back to what I usually do. It’s actually a little more comfortable being back at Star rather than being back there at safety.”
Fitzpatrick is expected to be back at safety Saturday when Alabama takes on Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Kickoff is at 4 p.m. EST (3 p.m. central) and CBS will televise the game.
Fitzpatrick said, “They’re a very fast offense, and they have a really good back and a really good receiver corps, receivers like No. 81 (Antonio Callaway) and No. 4 (Brandon Powell). They’re really fast and run really good routes and have really consistent hands, so I think it’s going to be a great matchup with our secondary, and I think it’s going to be a whole lot of fun going out there and competing against them.”
Of Callaway, Fitzpatrick said, “He’s a great athlete. He does punt return, kick return, and he’s great at that. Also, he’s a really good receiver, probably one of the best in the country. He runs really good routes, he’s really fast, has great hands, and it’s going to be a whole lot of fun going against him.”
Fitzpatrick said that one advantage he and other Alabama defensive backs have is practicing against Bama’s outstanding wide receiver, ArDarius Stewart. “I go against a receiver like ArDarius every single day,” Fitzpatrick said. “He’s getting me better. He’s getting him better, and it’s just a whole lot of fun going up against him because he’s a real physical receiver, and you’re not really used to that at DB. You’re kind of used to being more physical than the receiver. So when I go against him, you’ve got to be real tough, I guess you can say, and hard going against him.”

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