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Alabama 2020 Football Unit Previews: Safeties

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The Tide will be breaking in two new starters... Is the back end of their defense in trouble?

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Rashad Johnson, Mark Barron, HaHa Clinton-Dix, Landon Collins, Eddie Jackson, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Xavier McKinney...

Alabama has always had at least one difference maker at safety in Nick Saban’s entire tenure in Tuscaloosa. A great safety can cover for defensive weaknesses or he can be the cherry on top to make a great defense into an elite defense.

When there were issues with cornerbacks 2013 and 2014, Collins and Clinton-Dix were there to cover the center of the field for them. When Alabama struggled to make tackles at the line of scrimmage in 2019, McKinney was there to clean things up as often as possible.

On the other hand, when the 2012 secondary consisted of two first-round corners in Dee Milliner and Dre Kirkpatrick, they didn’t need HaHa Clinton-Dix, but having him roaming with freedom led many plays like this:

In fact, the only time Alabama hasn’t returned a starting safety in the last decade was in 2018, when both Deionte Thompson and Xavier McKinney both got their first chops at a starting job.

In 2020, Alabama will, for only the second time under Saban, be breaking in two fresh starters on the back end of the defense.

Departures

Xavier McKinney- The junior safety was a two-year starter and three-year contributor in the secondary who was drafted at the very start of the second round of the NFL draft. He was a guy who played with reckless abandon on every snap and was as solid and consistent of a tackler as you’ll ever see in a 210-lb player. McKinney was most suited playing near the line of scrimmage in a roving safety/linebacker hybrid playmaker, but by necessity was forced into playing as a deep safety just as often.

Jared Mayden- A lengthy prospect at cornerback, Mayden disappeared for his first three years at Alabama before finally carving out a role for himself as a safety who had the versatility to rotate down to slot corner and work interchangeably with either McKinney or Shyheim Carter on any given play. He went undrafted, but is currently employed by the 49ers.

Returning

Jordan Battle- Though the Tide technically isn’t returning any starters, Battle got significant playing time as a true freshman in 2019 as the 6th defensive back in Dime packages. At 6’1” 210, Battle is a prototypical sized player who can work as a deep free safety or in run support near the line of scrimmage. He was known for being a free-roving playmaker and ball hawk in high school, and was nothing short of solid as a true freshman in many big situations last year.

He may not be a returning starter, but he’s as close to a sure thing as it gets (And my personal pick for a huge breakout season... Potentially All-American material).

Daniel Wright- The younger brother of former Florida and NFL safety Major Wright, Daniel joined the team at the same time as McKinney and is now entering his senior year as the favorite to start beside Battle. Wright was the case of a player who’s attitude and skill set didn’t match his body size as a freshman, as he was a hard-hitting, downhill tackler who arrived at Alabama at around 170 pounds. He’s slowly grown into his frame to 195 pounds, and will be looking to translate his multiple years of big hits on special teams into a consistent defensive back skill set.

DeMarcco Hellams- At 6’1” 210 with ridiculously long arms, Hellams looked the part of an NFL safety back in high school. He wasn’t quite as immediately college-ready as Battle was last year though, and took a redshirt while getting some decent back-up experience in his 4 allotted games. He’s got the size and athleticism, and now he has a year of experience. He’ll be making a push to overtake the more senior Wright for the starting safety spot, and has also been training at the Money position (the safety/linebacker hybrid role as a defensive back in Dime packages).

Eddie Smith- The third year man was one of those “athletes” as a high school recruit that came to Alabama with the potential to play wide receiver, running back, cornerback, or safety. He’s bounced back and forth between corner and safety the last two years, and has seemed to be settling in as a pure safety this offseason. He’s solidly in the “depth” category, but has great athleticism, versatility, and special teams prowess— the perfect back-up.

The New Kid

Kristian Story- The former Mr. Football of Alabama, Story was record-setting QB that doubled as a safety/linebacker and wreaked havoc on the unfornuate smaller high school players in his way. Story initially wanted to try to stick with QB at Alabama, but has since declared he intends to make his way as a safety. At north of 215 pounds, he’s the biggest defensive back on Alabama’s roster and should be competing with Hellams for the Money position as a hybrid linebacker.

Crossovers

As always, the Star corner position often has some significant overlap with the safeties. In 2019, Shyheim Carter was the star and Mayden was safety, but the two often switched places for different matchups.

The other two true freshmen, Brian Branch and Malachi Moore, were safeties in high school that are now the top two contestants to be the Star in 2020.

Don’t be surprised to see the winner of that battle move to safety on some plays and the loser to be depth for the other safeties.

Depth Chart

As of now, the pecking order seems pretty clear.

Free Safety- Jordan Battle, Eddie Smith

Strong Safety- Daniel Wright, DeMarcco Hellams, Kristian Story

I expect that to be the configuration at the start of the season. But don’t be surprised to see Hellams rotating some with Wright as Saban gives them each a chance to unseat the other as the starter.

Poll

Who will be the safety starting alongside Jordan Battle at the END of the season?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    DeMarcco Hellams
    (97 votes)
  • 51%
    Daniel Wright
    (130 votes)
  • 9%
    Other
    (24 votes)
251 votes total Vote Now