Alabama football: Tide bringing back plenty of experience in the secondary

Spring practice is much different for Alabama’s secondary in 2021 than it was last year.

The group was going through what the offense is currently dealing with — a lot of new faces.

Four of five secondary positions had to be filled heading into 2020. That’s far from the case for the Crimson Tide this year.

Cornerback Patrick Surtain II is gone as he could be a top 10 pick in the NFL draft. Every other starter is back.

“They knew coming in Pat was probably going to be a top pick,” Alabama strong safety Jordan Battle said. “Taking that role, of course it’s a big role to fill, but I feel like we aren’t going to miss a heartbeat losing Pat. That’s what we do — we recruit and go get guys to fill spots because people are leaving every year.”

What’s the biggest difference from spring last year to now?

“It just challenges us to become leaders on the defense,” Battle said. “We have to get everybody, including the defensive line and linebackers, on the same page as us. We all have to combine as one and be that great voice and great leadership for the defense this year.”

Alabama had to rely on some true freshman last season, particularly Malachi Moore and Brian Branch.

“They grew tremendously throughout the course of the season,” Surtain said. “It showed how much they took on and how much they grew in the playbook getting comfortable out there. I believe as the season went on they played their best ball.”

Although Alabama is losing only Surtain from the secondary, one of their coaches had to be replaced. Jay Valai replaced Karl Scott, who joined the Minnesota Vikings’ staff, as the cornerbacks coach.

“Coach Valai is very energetic and he always brings a smile to the meeting room and on the football field,” Battle said. “He keeps us all energized, and he’s a great leader for the corners. He keeps the corners every day after practice to get them extra work. I see the corners progressing every day and getting better.”

The Crimson Tide’s secondary allowed 335 passing yards or more in two of its first three games. Only Florida (408 yards) surpassed more than 269 yards through the air the rest of the season.

“I think we have a little more experience coming back on defense, which will help us,” coach Nick Saban said. “Last year we had like seven or eight new guys and four out of five in the secondary. … We had a lot of guys that had a lot of playing time so they should be a lot more confident.”