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2019 Alabama Crimson Tide Football Preview: Safeties

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Alabama has had an elite safety in pretty much every Saban defense. Will it continue this year?

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

Last week, we took a look at the Crimson Tide’s cornerbacks for the 2019 season. With the fluidity of the defensive backfield in today’s nickel and dime defenses, there’s often a significant overlap in the players who play safety and corner. Often times we see a starting safety will walk up to the line as a nickel corner and another safety will come into the game for dime packages, rather than having four true corners on the field at the same time.

For Alabama, only 4th year junior, Deionte Thompson turned pro after the 2018, so Alabama has one new starting safety to break in this season.

The Returning Starter

#15- Xavier McKinney

The junior will be entering his second season as a starter after racking up 73 tackles, 12 PBUs, and 2 interceptions last season. At 6’1” 200, he’s a balanced safety who’s as happy to walk up and tackle a running back in the backfield as he is to cover deep down the field. While he was new to the starting job last year—and played quite well— he’ll be expected to take a big step forward this season and become a leader in the secondary and a dependable play-maker.

The Hybrids

#5- Shyheim Carter

A senior who started all last season as the Star (nickel cornerback), Carter can play any position in the secondary. As of right now, he’s been seen mostly at safety this summer, so we expect him to have first look at the opposite safety spot beside McKinney. Here’s what we said about him last week in the cornerbacks article:

A senior that was a do-it-all athlete in high school and a key reserve in his first two seasons at Alabama, Carter became the starting Star (nickel corner) last season and was a steady veteran presence all season long. Though on the shorter side, Carter is a quick and sticky cover man with solid tackling ability, and can play any position in the secondary. Most likely, the coaches will find out what players are best at which spots, and Carter will fill in at the weakest spot.

#21- Jared Mayden

Another senior that came in the same recruiting class as Carter, Mayden has flirted with being a starter for a couple of years and has been one of the top reserves at both corner and safety over the past few seasons. With his size and speed, he was expected by many fans to be the surefire starter opposite McKinney after Thompson moved to the pros, but Carter moving to safety as well may have pushed him back down the depth chart a little. That said, he’ll see plenty of playing time all year, regardless of who is officially designated the starter.

#25- Eddie Smith

Smith is another guy who’s played both safety and corner. I listed him last week in the depth chart for the corners, but he’s since been seen working with the safeties. Here’s what I said last week:

Another guy that has been at safety just as much as he has cornerback, sophomore Eddie Smith was a core special teams player as a true freshman last year. Another do-it-all athlete in high school, Smith has the size and speed to play running back, wide receiver, outside corner, inside corner, safety, and return man. He’s generally considered one of the quickest players on the team, but hasn’t quite settled on a role yet.

Returning Reserves

#3-Daniel Wright

Once a highly touted prospect out of Florida, Wright came in to Alabama needing to add about 20 pounds to his frame. He did, and was actually looking to be ahead of McKinney in the offseason before the 2018 season, but was derailed by injuries and a suspension early on. He’ll likely be the top back up this season, but is solidly behind the trio of McKinney, Carter, and Mayden.

The Newcomers

#6-Jordan Battle

A 4-star recruit on the fringes of being a 5-star, Battle is an instinctual playmaker with good size and speed who’s at his best in sort of the old “Honey Badger” role. Let him freelance a little, and he’s going to find ways to disrupt the opposing offense. He’s a danger in zone coverage to pick off passes all over the field and take them back for scores.

There’s obviously positives and negatives to that style of play, and Battle just enrolled this summer, so he’ll have a ways to go to get up to speed with a college defense.

#29-DeMarcco Hellams

At 213 pounds, the true freshman is the biggest defensive back on the team. He’s a talented player, but likely has a little further to go in terms or technique and consistent coverage ability than Battle does. But, he’s a big-hitter with plenty of height, speed, and length.

Predicted depth chart

FS- Xavier McKinney, Daniel Wright, Jordan Battle

SS- Shyheim Carter/Jared Mayden, DeMarcco Hellams