With A-Day drawing nigh, all the talk is circulating around the injuries and who won’t be playing on Saturday (Hint: I can’t rhyme his name). There’s also been a good bit of discussion involving the secondary, as the unit must replace its top six contributors from 2017. However, that talk has been around the cornerbacks, while chatter about the safeties seems noticeably quiet.
After Deionte Thompson’s phenomenal performance in the playoffs, filling in for an injured Hootie Jones, pretty much everyone has him penciled in for one starting spot— and rightly so. The other spot, though, is a little less certain. We have two true sophomores in Xavier McKinney and Daniel Wright who, despite being behind multi-year starters on the depth chart, both became regular contributors in the secondary as true freshmen. They were mainly seen in blowouts, but were often subbed-in before the corners, linebackers, and defensive line started to move on to their second teams as well.
McKinney, who just changed his number from #25 to #15, is a muscular, athletic specimen with both great range and size. He’s an NFL safety prototype to the T, and only has to prove that his game skills match his body to be an elite stalwart in the secondary for the next few years.
On the other hand, Wright, #3, is the younger brother of NFL (former Florida Gator) safety Major Wright. He came out of high school weighing all of 170 pounds, but quickly gained muscle size after landing on campus and ended up becoming one of the hardest hitters on the kickoff coverage team all season long. He usually rotated in just after McKinney did in mop-up games, but he also has a full year of special teams experience that McKinney did not.
Right now, it seems about as close to a 50-50 battle for the starting position as it can get. It’ll be interesting to see which one is on the white team alongside Deionte Thompson, and which one is on crimson. Or, maybe Saban splits them up differently, such as putting them both on the crimson team. In any case, watch closely on how each performs, particularly in the mental aspect of their game.
The best performer on Saturday may very well be Alabama’s next starting safety.