Within 50 hours of Alabama’s 33-14 victory over then-No. 6 Texas A&M, defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick looked down at his phone.
The message typed up was simple.
He hit send. It was time to go to work.
“Coach [Nick] Saban met with me right before I tweeted that and he was talking to me about how I needed a new challenge and he said I’m going to move you to the safety and try to fill in the role for Eddie [Jackson],” Fitzpatrick said.
The coaching staff already asked a lot of Fitzpatrick, who served as the team’s starting star (Alabama’s fifth defensive back) and starting cornerback on the rare occasion that the team decided to play go to its regular package, which only includes four defensive backs.
Jackson fractured his leg in the Crimson Tide’s showdown with the Aggies. At the time, Saban referred to Jackson as an All-American safety, and on Monday, Saban said Jackson’s surgery was a success. He doesn’t expect the injury, once healed, to impact Jackson’s ability to continue his career at the next level from a physical standpoint.
“I always thought it was interesting, Don James, who was the first guy I worked for, used to say the quality of your team long term is going to get determined by the bottom 40 guys on your team not the top 40,” Saban said on Wednesday. “Sometimes that makes a lot of sense, especially when you get in this time of year.”
Alabama didn’t expect to spend the bye week reworking the secondary, but a lot of things have taken unexpected turns since the Aggies left Tuscaloosa.
When the College Football Playoff committee revealed its initial rankings for the 2016 season on Tuesday night, No. 1 Alabama’s next opponent LSU (5-2, 3-1 SEC) checked in at No. 13. In-state rival Auburn (6-2, 4-1 SEC) and Texas A&M (7-1, 4-1 SEC) were ranked No. 9 and No. 4, respectively. The rankings don’t mean much right now for Alabama, but a month ago, few suspected LSU and Auburn would find themselves in a position to contend for a national title at this point in the season.
When Alabama sent the Aggies packing, the Crimson Tide was supposed to have the inside track to Atlanta. Now, with both programs seemingly moving in the right direction, Alabama will be asked to play in two more win-and-advance games with the SEC West and potentially given the chance to return to the College Football Playoff on the line.
“They [LSU] have a whole different energy,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think they kind of consider it a whole different season after Coach [Ed Orgeron] got there.”
Fitzpatrick spent some time playing safety in high school, so the new position won’t be brand new to him. If he has to adjust the secondary at times, much like Jackson did, that won’t be new to the sophomore either.
“Several times in the game, Minkah will see a receiver close up and he’ll alert Reuben [Foster] in the middle so we can pass him off or whatever,” linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said. “He’s definitely a guy who can see things before they happen.”
If Fitzpatrick does make the move to safety — Saban has yet to actually confirm Fitzpatrick’s move is permanent — then he won’t be the only one learning a new position in the secondary. Someone has to fill his old role at the star position.
Cornerback Tony Brown could be the guy who steps up for Alabama in the nickel package. His teammates are confident he will make the most of whatever opportunity he receives.
“With Eddie being out in the spring, Tony Brown was one of those guys that played a lot of different positions,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “Minkah was one of those guys. So we have a couple different guys that played a lot of different positions this spring.”
Source:: The Crimson White Sports