- Marq Burnett, SEC Country
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Not since the 2010 season has Alabama football experienced this much turnover in its secondary. Junior Deionte Thompson is the lone returning player with any significant experience.
Thompson played in every game as a sophomore in 2017, earning two starts and recording 25 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, a pass breakup and 1 interception. He stepped in once safety Hootie Jones went down against Auburn, and started both games in the College Football Playoff.
This spring, Alabama coach Nick Saban has noticed improvement from Thompson on the field as well as leadership.
Saban hopes the experience Thompson gained in the playoff carries over into the coming season.
“He played almost two full games, two very big games, and did a really, really good job,” Saban said. “I think it helped his confidence a lot. I think he’s a lot more confident in what he’s supposed to do, he has a better understanding. Certainly has a lot of confidence that he can do it because he did play very well for us in those two games. We’re excited about that.
“We don’t have a lot of experience in the secondary right now. But I think those games that he played certainly gave him a level of confidence and experience that will be very helpful, even helping the other guys play better.”
Heading into 2018, Alabama’s secondary will be without defensive backs Anthony Averett, Ronnie Harrison and Minkah Fitzpatrick — all of whom had multiple years of starting experience. Jones, walk-on-turned-starter Levi Wallace and fan favorite Tony Brown are both gone as well.
“It’s kind of weird, but it’s something that we have to get adjusted to,” Thompson said. “They’re not walking through the meeting doors anymore, so it’s the guys in that room who are going to be ready.”
Fitzpatrick and Harrison, Thompson’s classmates, left school early to chase NFL dreams. Fitzpatrick is a projected top-10 pick, while Harrison is likely to go in the second round.
Thompson still talks to both frequently for advice.
“They’re telling me that I have to be in the film room a lot,” Thompson said. “I have to meet with my coaches and really stay in my playbook to understand, like, the defense and get a feel for what’s going on.”
Like most young players, Thompson learned the mental side of things is just as important as being physically gifted when trying to earn a spot in Saban’s secondary.
“The biggest lesson is that you have to get in the playbook,” Thompson said. “You have to understand what’s going on on the playbook side before you can get in the big game experience. That’s what I’ve learned is my biggest lesson for my time being here.”
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