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2023 Alabama Fall Football Preview: Who will step up at cornerback across from Kool Aid McKinstry?

One starting job is a foregone conclusion. Can Saban find an elite running mate for Kool Aid?

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Kansas State at Alabama Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

With Nick Saban at the helm, cornerback is a position that should always be a relative strength. Last season, however, the Tide struggled to find consistency on the outside opposite Kool Aid McKinstry. McKinstry is back for one more ride before undoubtedly heading off to the NFL, and he will be expected to compete for the Thorpe Award. The rest is a bit of a mystery, though there are options. How this group comes together will be a crucial X factor for the 2023 season.


Alabama lost a key starter in second round pick Brian Branch, who spent the bulk of his time covering the slot. Also gone is Eli Ricks, after just one mostly unsuccessful season in Tuscaloosa.

The Superstar

NCAA Football: SEC Media Day Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

#1 Kool Aid McKinstry - Jr.

Rising junior McKinstry is unquestionably the best of the group. He has ideal size at 6’1” and 195 lbs. with plenty of speed to burn. Kool Aid has proven to be an instinctive cover guy who earned second team All-American honors for his work in 2022. McKinstry also moonlights as a devastating punt returner. Hopefully he reaches his ceiling this season and hears his name called early in the NFL Draft next April. That would go a long way toward helping the TIde get back to the top of the mountain.

Other returnees

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Alabama Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

#13 Malachi Moore - Sr.

The senior from Trussville showed flashes as a freshman, but has since seemingly been in and out of the doghouse due to inconsistent play. He came on a bit late last season, and indications are that he is poised for a key role in 2023. Moore will likely either play the nickel position, called “Star” in Saban’s scheme, or might be moved to safety.

#3 Terrion Arnold - Jr.

Arnold came in with McKinstry but wasn’t quite ready as a freshman, and ended up taking a redshirt year. Terrion was something of an enigma last season, with occasional outstanding play mixed in with some highly notable busts. He will be in the mix to start outside opposite McKinstry, and thus far Saban has had good things to say about him.

#8 Devonta Smith - Jr.

Early in camp Smith was seen running first in that open outside spot, so he is clearly in the mix. The junior, who was a former four-star recruit, has paid his dues on special teams for two seasons. He has solid size for the position, standing 6’0” and listed at 194 lbs. It will be interesting to see if he is able to carve out a role.

#20 Earl Little Jr. - RS Fr.

The 6’1”, 186 lb. redshirt freshman from Florida was a consensus top 100 recruit in the 2022 class and created plenty of buzz covering the slot in camp. Unfortunately his first season on campus was riddled with injuries, but he should be in line to compete at nickel and dime.

#12 Antonio Kite - RS Fr.

Kite was listed as an ATH on the recruiting services coming out of high school, but has seemingly settled in at cornerback. The redshirt freshman from Anniston will likely find playing time tough to come by this season.


NCAA Football: UL Lafayette at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

#23 Trey Amos - Sr.

Amos transferred from Louisiana with three years of experience under his belt, leading many to assume that he would grab that coveted starting job outside. To hear Saban speak, Amos and Arnold have been locked in a rather fierce battle for the role, with both players impressing the head man. Needless to say, this is a positive development.

#29 Dezz Ricks - Fr.

Dezz was a crown jewel of the heralded 2023 recruiting class, boasting a five-star rating as the 2nd ranked corner on the 247 composite. The IMG Academy product has all of the tools including elite length at 6’1”. Freshmen with this type of pedigree are usually expected to push hard for time right away, particularly since Ricks was an early enrollee. If the upperclassmen are able to keep him on the bench this season, it should spell good things for the pass defense.

#25 Jahlil Hurley -Fr.

One elite CB recruit is never enough in Nick Saban’s world, so Hurley was brought in alongside Ricks. The 6’2” Hurley hails from nearby Florence, AL and came in as the 4th ranked corner in the 2023 class. He also enrolled early and will very likely factor heavily in the 2024 plans at the position. For this season, however, he may find his time limited.