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2023 Alabama Fall Football Preview: Does Nick Saban have the Key to reloading the safety position?

With both starters gone, Alabama will turn to a couple of new faces on the back end.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 11 UAB at Georgia Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The safety position is one of great intrigue coming into 2023, as Alabama looks to replace a pair of multi-year starters in Jordan Battle and Demarcco Hellams. The good news is that the coaching staff did an outstanding job on the recruiting trail, both at the high school level and in the transfer portal, so Tide fans have some reason for optimism here. Malachi Moore was covered in the cornerbacks preview, but depending on how the both competitions shake out, he could factor in at safety as well. Corners Devonta Smith and Terrion Arnold have also worked some at safety and could help if needed.

Likely Starters

Based on camp reports we aren’t projecting anyone who was on the 2022 roster, with the possible exception of Moore, to seriously compete for a starting job as long as these two newcomers stay healthy.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 01 Alabama A&M at UAB Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

#2 Caleb Downs - Fr.

Downs, to be frank, was rightly viewed as a recruit that Nick Saban had to have. Caleb played his high school football in Gwinnett County, about 40 minutes from the University of Georgia, and pulling him away from the defending national champions was quite a coup. Often compared to former Alabama great Minkah Fitzpatrick, Downs has reportedly been as advertised since arriving on campus. The 6’0”, 195 lb. five-star freshman has speed, loves to hit, and flashes range and instincts not seen on the back end since Eddie Jackson left town. Downs is going to be a joy to watch over the next three seasons.

#22 Jaylen Key - Super Sr.

Key (pictured above) was a late pull out of the transfer portal from UAB, officially committing to Alabama in May. The sixth-year senior saw an opportunity to capitalize on his successful 2022 season by taking a shot at the open starting job in Nick Saban’s secondary, and by all accounts he appears to have seized the job. Key’s experience next to Downs’ potential could make for a beautiful combination this fall.


Alabama Spring Football Game Photo by Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images

#11 Kristian Story - Sr.

Story came in as a fan favorite after winning Mr. Football as Lanett High School’s QB, leading them to the 2019 Alabama 2A state championship. He has mostly played special teams but did find some time in the defensive backfield last season. He was in rotation this spring but is unlikely to find much of a role beyond special teams with Downs and Key in the fold.

#21 Jake Pope - RS Fr.

Pope, a 6’1” four-star out of powerhouse Buford, GA, has reportedly done well for himself this camp. He may get some mop up duty in the fall, but is much more likely to contribute on special teams this season. He may well be a factor in 2024.

Other newcomer

#27 Tony Mitchell - Fr.

Alabama fans know Mitchell’s name all too well. Tony made a bad decision in the spring and got himself arrested after leading police on a high speed chase with guns and drugs in the car. This put the 5-star freshman behind the 8-ball for the 2023 campaign, but reports are that he has shown some ability in practice thus far. He will likely spend this season as a special teamer but has a great chance at a prominent role next fall.