After one year of Jay Valai, it was apparent that Alabama’s corners were doing a good job of staying in phase with receivers, but were falling well behind their talent level when it came to playing the ball in the air. Hell, Georgia won a national title by throwing 50-50 wounded ducks at inexperienced corners and daring them to make a play on the ball. And, sadly, the biggest play of the night was an underthrown Bennett eephus that ‘Bama’s DBs were unable to locate.
That was symptomatic of the larger issue that has loomed in the secondary the last several seasons: Alabama corners were losing too many 50-50 balls, not contesting others, and generally relying on scheme and talent to put them in position to make plays, but were not making plays; they were not forcing the issue.
After watching Cracker McHonkyson arm-punt his way to a natty, a change was necessary.
So, what if you could could get a coach with a demonstrably outstanding SEC pedigree, one who intimately knows Saban’s defense, that could retain Valai’s ability to coach players to stay in phase, with Miami-area recruiting ties, that has defensive coordinator experience, and that also adds in-the-air ball skills?
Well, folks, if you can find that unicorn, you hire him. Fortunately, that person does exist, and even better, he’ll be wearing crimson: Travaris Robinson has joined Alabama to coach the Tide’s young corner talent.
And is his resume ever sterling.
Robinson played at the ‘Barn, but where he’s really shined is as a coach. How well-regarded is he? He was Will Muschamp’s very first hire when Boom went to South Carolina. And with stops at USCe, Florida, and Miami (among others), Robinson has excelled everywhere he’s gone.
How good? In his first season at Florida in 2011, he improved the Gator’s pass defense from 16th to 7th; the next season, the Gators were among the best in the country. They were No. 2 in pass efficiency defense, and allowed just seven touchdown passes (2nd). Gata had 20 picks (7th), and Matt Elam was a first-team All-America selection and first-round draft pick.
He would later coach a freshman All-American, two other All-Americans (Jalen Tabor, VHIII) and a national defensive POTY (Vernon Hargreaves III), while finishing among the nation’s best in PE defense.
At South Carolina, he was promoted to defensive coordinator, and it was well-earned. He was outstanding at that job too:
Robinson mentored defensive lineman Kingsley Enagbare, a first-team All-SEC selection, and defensive back Jaycee Horn, a second-team All-SEC pick. In 2019, the South Carolina defense – led by first-team All-American defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw – held its opponents to 20 points or less in five games. Sophomore cornerback Israel Mukuamu earned second-team All-SEC honors, while Jammie Robinson and Zacch Pickens earned SEC All-Freshman accolades for the Gamecocks in 2019.
In 2017 South Carolina led the SEC and ranked ninth in the country with 28 turnovers forced, while ranking 25th in points allowed per game at 20.7. The Gamecocks held 11 of 13 opponents to fewer points than their season average. South Carolina tied for 10th in the nation in turnovers forced with 27 during the 2016 campaign, including 15 interceptions.
It’s not just on-field production that stands out. Robinson’s recruiting is also an asset, and the Miami area in particular will be back in play after the Tide lost Mario Cristobal. While Cristobal is now the head man at Da’ U and will make contesting players tough, Robinson at least gives ‘Bama solid inroads to South Florida that it has not had for the last few years. And he is a blue-chip magnet, too.
Reviewing film of Robinson’s defense, one thing that you will notice is a more gambling style. Like the much beloved Derrick Ansley, YPA do go up some — for a career, his teams have averaged 6.4 YPA vs. 5.8 preceding. But, like Ansley, the reason is that the corners are far more aggressive. And that aggression has a tendency to pay off in turnovers. UF went from a good secondary, to an elite one that picked off twice as many passes. South Carolina was not only a no-fly zone, but the DBs tackled very well in space.
Want an idea of what Alabama’s DBs will look like? Go back to the Tide’s 2016 NOT machine. Position and aggression.
In a scheme where the defense is going to give up the occasional big play, Nick Saban has decided to at least contest the frequency at which they occur, to make life far more uncomfortable down the sidelines for opposing teams, and to make the secondary a less passive unit.
In terms of off-season hires, this was among the very best in the country made by anyone.
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