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Alabama Football Recruiting: Meet the New Guys- Defensive Backs

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With the Tide losing so many starters from the 2018 season, depth will be critical to replace in the defensive backfield

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Orange Bowl-Alabama vs Oklahoma Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

So far, we’ve covered the quarterback, running back, pass catching, offensive line, defensive line, and linebacker position groups from Alabama’s 2019 recruiting class. Today we’ll finish off the offensive and defensive units by delving into the new defensive backs.

With Deionte Thompson moving on to the pros and Kyriq McDonald transferring (still upset about that one), finding some depth at safety is going to be critical this season. On the cornerback front, Shyheim Carter and Trevon Diggs are both rising seniors, so any new corners will be right on time to learn for a year before vying for a starting job in the 2020 season.

As usual, I will be referring to SPARQ, an analytical tool used to quantify and compare a player’s athleticism.

I pull all of my rankings from the 247Composite, and all heights, weights, and athletic tests are from ESPN, since they pull data from the Opening combines. However, most of the players have changed somewhat in their weight since participation in these combines last summer, so their college-arrival size may be much different. I just keep that old weight because it shows what size the player was when he ran that 40-yard dash.

As a side note, defensive back is typically the most difficult position to watch in high school videos, since the videographers rarely ever show what’s happening down the field. So I may wind up a little less wordy this week than I usually am.


Jeffrey “Scooby” Carter

Carter was a last second commitment that kind of went under the radar in the media during the Signing Day drama as most of the focus was on guys like Trey Sanders, Evan Neal, and Ishmael Sopsher. However, Carter is a top 100 recruit with otherworldly athleticism that can not be ignored. I don’t have to tell you that a 4.36 forty-yard dash is absolutely stellar, but I will anyway. And I’ll add that it’s the fastest an Alabama signee has run since Tony Brown got a 4.35 in 2014.

On top of that, a 40 inch vertical shows tremendous athleticism, and a 37ft powerball toss is a lot of strength for someone only 182 pounds. His shuttle time is a little more on the average side, but is still a solid score.

Overall, Scooby is a 97.4th percentile athlete. He enrolled early, and is wearing jersey #11.

Pros

Carter is a versatile athlete with experience at outside corner, safety, wide receiver, and even some running back. He’s at his best, though, as a cornerback. He’s exceptional in zone coverage, particularly deeper boundary coverages like cover 3 and cover 4. He is at his best when he can stay deeper than any of the receivers and then plant his foot and break downhill at them at full speed. He’s fast enough to bait QB’s into throwing to underneath receivers and then picking off the pass as he closes down on the receiver from behind.

If he doesn’t get the ball, he’s going to lay a hit into the receiver. Despite his leaner frame, he’s a strong tackler and a big hitter. He can blow up receiver screens and is adept at navigation around perimeter blockers to make tackles on the sideline (a nice thing to see after the fiasco of a certain unnamed Alabama cornerback in 2018).

Cons

Carter isn’t as experience in man coverage as he is in zone. That’s not to say he doesn’t have the ability or talent for it, but more that he’s just generally been a deep zone guy for most of his career. The few times I saw him in press coverage, he was aggressive and stuck with his man— but could have been called for defensive holding by a strict referee.

He’s also just generally not the biggest guy out there, and hasn’t shown the ability to win jump balls— or even just swat them down— against bigger receivers.

Prediction

With Alabama’s lack of depth in the backfield and Carter being an early enrollee, he’ll have his shot in a couple of weeks to make an impression at A-Day. And I think he will. He won’t be perfect, nor someone that is so good out that gate that he can’t be kept from starting, but I think he does well enough from the start and over the summer to end up as one of the more common backups we see in mop-up duty all year... Similar to Josh Jobe in 2018.


Brandon Turnage

A multi-position athlete from right out of Ole Miss’s backyard, Turnage was one of Alabama’s longest-standing commits of the 2019 cycle. Though he didn’t post any official test numbers, he did add some of his own numbers online, showing a 4.56 forty yard dash, 4.34 shuttle, and 38 inch vertical. Obviously, those aren’t verified, but I’d guess they’re pretty close to accurate.

Pros

He has excellent ball skills— so much so that I’m tempted to think that Nick Saban might actually be viewing him as a receiver. If the ball is in the air, Turnage is going to come down with it. Whether he’s jumping over people, cutting right between them, or fighting for a low throw, he always catches it.

With the ball in his hands (whether on offense or after an interception), he has a nose for the endzone and will juke anyone and everyone to get there. 4 touchdowns on his 6 interceptions and over 20 yards per catch in his senior season show just how good he is at avoiding getting tackled.

He’s one of those players that is just somehow always involved in big plays. It’s one of those things that don’t really fit into any specific technique or category that I look for, but he’s somehow always knocking out fumbles or grabbing tipped balls for interceptions.

Cons

Saban is going to have a field day with his footwork. Turnage’s backpedal is some hybrid hopping, loping.... something... that is going to take some time for Saban to erase from his muscle memory. His zone and man coverages are similarly unrefined, and he has thus far been fine just by being so much more athletic than his competition.

As a tackler, he has a bad tendency of going for big hits up high. It’s a double-negative, as on one hand, he’s more likely to overrun a tackle and just flat out miss... and on the other hand that kind of tackling is always going to risk a targeting call.

Prediction

Turnage is a bit of an odd player in that he’s not overly athletic nor technical, but is a playmaker who just makes things happen. I think he’ll need a year or two of training before he’s ready to contribute with consistency, and he redshirts this season.


Marcus Banks

Banks, like Carter, was a bit of an unheralded commitment during the winter months, but really helped to solidify a position group that Saban vocally was worried about bringing in new depth for.

He’s smaller guy, at only 166 pounds, and didn’t test all that well in any of his four tests. None of them were particularly bad, but none were impressive, either.

Pros

Basically everything I just said about Turnage is the opposite for Banks. He is precise with his footwork and can flip his hips around with a natural ease when turning to run with his man downfield. He can cover a receiver breaking in pretty much any direction without losing a single step, and then does a great job of getting right in between their hands if they try to catch a ball.

He’s a great form tackler, usually going for a runner’s thighs and then rolling as soon as his grabs them.

Cons

Size is going to be his biggest issue here, and he’ll need some time in a college conditioning program to gain both size and speed. Right now, he’s going to struggle to win press coverage or jump balls against bigger receivers and will be hard pressed to keep his own in a footrace down the sidelines.

He looks just like a Nick Saban-coached cornerback already, and that comes with both its pros and its cons. The biggest of which is that he can be in perfect position running down the sidelines on deep balls, but is more likely to run straight through the receiver rather than try to turn and make a play on the ball.

Again, for better or for worse, I guess.

Prediction

Banks already looks the part of an Alabama cornerback, but he will need some time before he’s ready, athletically. I think he redshirts this year.


Jordan Battle

Battle is a generally solid athlete with adequate numbers in his forty, shuttle, and vertical for a safety. He’s got impressive strength for his size though, with his 39ft powerball toss at only 190 pounds. It’s the kind of numbers that would give him passing grades at an NFL combine, and makes him a 90th percentile athlete at a college recruit level.

Pros

Battle tends to play more of a hybrid safety/nickel corner role that allows him to really use his limitless energy to create chaos for opposing offenses. He’s a natural athlete who never looks off balance and can pick off a pass and switch into being a ball carrier with no wasted motion. Since he’s also an accomplished punt returner, he’s always a threat to get big chunks of yardage with the ball in his hands.

He’s great at breaking down and making tackles in open space— ball carriers almost never manage to juke around him. And most of his tackles wind up with him pinning someone to the turf. He’s not a big hitter per se, but he does tackle with a lot of force.

Cons

Though an exceptional playmaker, he can be a bit overzealous in zone coverage and has a tendency to bite on underneath routes and play fakes, going for interceptions rather than playing safe. As such, he’s not well suited to be a deep safety right now, as he probably doesn’t have the patience or discipline to be the last line of defense without making mistakes.

Prediction

With the Tide looking for safety depth, I think Battle sees the field early and often this season. Not as a starter, but I think he gets plenty of action in mop-up duty, and will even be one of the first guys to see the field in case of injury.


DeMarco Hellams

Hellams is yet another recruit from the DC/Maryland area that Alabama has recruited so well lately. He’s as big bodied dude with the size and range to be able to play free and strong safety in nearly any scheme. He didn’t post a complete set of tests, but his 4.2 shuttle time is pretty impressive.

Pros

With his size, speed, and catching ability, Hellams has impressive range when patrolling the back half of the field. He has deceptive closing speed that allows him to pick off passes down the sidelines that QBs think are going to be surefire completions over the top of the cornerback. At his best, Hellams has a similar build and playstyle to former Tide safety HaHa Clinton-Dix (though definitely not as heralded or immediately college-ready).

Despite his obvious natural ability as a single-high free safety, Hellams is also experienced as a more in-the-box safety and as a nickel back, so he’s a very versatile defensive back who can work in man coverage against slot receivers and come up to stop outside runs and screen passes when needed.

He’s also a wide receiver who’s most used in endzone fades and jump balls, so he’s got plenty of practice at coming down with tough catches over other people.

Cons

Like many talented high school safeties, Hellams tends to go for big hits when coming up to make a tackle— at the expense of a solid wrap-up.

Though he has great lateral mobility and change-of-direction footwork, he, like Turnage, also has a bit of an odd and inefficient backpedal. Though he’s usually able to turn and make a break on a throw after being a step behind on his straight backpedal, that extra step will be much tougher to make up in college against SEC wide receivers.

Prediction

LIke Battle, I expect we see Hellams in mop-up duty this year with Alabama already so thin at safety. He won’t be a regular contributor or anything, but action in 6-8 games this season wouldn’t be out of the question.