"We want to help their confidence in playing man coverage. And we're trying to find out who our best players are."
Besides coverage techniques, a unit that managed only four interceptions all of last season is working hard to improve that number. "The biggest thing we're stressing is the number of balls that we touch based on the number of balls that we catch," Thurmond said. "Every defense every year is going to average about 60 touches a year, and your success or failure rate depends on how many you're going to catch.
"We're trying to catch every ball we touch, and we're making improvement there. That's really a point of emphasis."
As much as anything else, catching the football depends on repetitions. So Thurmond's athletes have gotten out early to get in extra work. He explained, "We're working with the JUGS machine pre-practice, and each guy is probably catching 50-60 balls. The more you catch the ball, the more your confidence goes up. Then you start thinking you can catch them all.
"Beyond that, we're constantly talking about it. We put it on the practice schedule. We always have, but we're really stressing it now."
Besides working to improve coverage techniques and interceptions, the Tide coaches are watching their players carefully, seeking to identify their best cover athletes. "What you'd like to do is get favorable matchups," Thurmond said. "When (the opposing offense) goes four-wides or five-wides or goes empty, then you want to get your best nickel people on the field. For us, that's usually three corners and two safeties. In our dime we'll play four corners and two safeties.
"We need to identify who our best man cover people are, so we can get them matched up on their best people."
Last year at this time, the coaches were spending time just teaching the players how to practice, explaining what is expected of a Franchione-coached team. But thankfully this season is better. Thurmond explained, "Anytime you're in your second year doing something, then their confidence level is up, because they know what to do. They understand what you're saying. You can make quick adjustments without having to slow down.
"Their confidence is high. They believe in what they're doing. They're just doing a very good job right now."
As spring practice wears on, Thurmond expects continued improvement from his troops. But don't expect any change in his goals. "We'll continue to emphasize our catch-to-touch ratio," Thurmond said. "We want to be a great tackling defense, and we want to continue to keep getting better in our matchups and playing man coverage. The more man we can play, then the more things we can do. That makes our zone stuff better. It disguises our coverages better. And it lets us get up to support the run."