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August 28, 2012

HURT: Bama has right ingredients

No one argues Nick Saban's credentials as the football version of a master chef. But is a secondary like an omelet, where you crack a few eggs, whisk a bit and have culinary delight in a few minutes? Or is it more like a souffle, where the ingredients must be combined precisely and, no matter how hungry you are, you have to be patient while it rises?

Going into Saturday night's season opener against Michigan, Alabama has the ingredients, even with the toll that graduation and some offseason attrition inflicted.

There is no Mark Barron, no Dre Kirkpatrick, no DeQuan Menzie.

There is a handful of players with experience and a few more with glittering prep credentials. But if you take Saban's Cam Newton/Denard Robinson comparison seriously, and there is no reason not to, almost all of the defensive backs (except Robert Lester) are about to face something different than they have ever faced before - and they will have to be ready.

"There are two things when you play against an offense like this," Saban said at his Monday press conference. "Most people think about the secondary and think about the pass defense, but really (there are) run support issues. It is how you keep contain, how you have the cutback guy, how you have the alley guy, how you have a second contain guy. The decisions that those guys make on leveraging a blocker and the ball, those things all can lead to big plays as well."

Consider this - last season, Robinson ran for 1,176 yards and 16 touchdowns, prodigious numbers for a quarterback who also threw for more than 2,000 yards - and a major challenge for Alabama cornerbacks Dee Milliner and Deion Belue.

"Dee has done really well," Saban said. "Deion has done a very good job for us. I think that the issue there is creating the depth that we need past that. John Fulton has had a pretty good camp. It's the entire secondary as a whole that we are going to be playing.

"A couple or three guys in most situations in this game - because there is going to be a good bit of nickel - those guys have not played. I think that they will be very good players. I also think that their experience, or lack of, will certainly determine how well they play."

The return of Lester at the safety position will help as far as that experience factor.

"Robert has been a really good player for us for two years now and continues to be more vocal in terms of his ability to communicate and run the secondary, make the checks, not depend on somebody else to do it for him," Saban said.

"I can't say enough about how this is an example of a guy who has worked hard and had all of the right stuff, in terms of perseverance, resiliency in overcoming adversity as a player. He continues to improve and not get frustrated."

Of the other names on the secondary depth chart that was released on Tuesday, Vinnie Sunseri, HaHa Clinton-Dix and Nick Perry have played a bit, while Geno Smith, Landon Collins and, remember, Belue, have not played major college football at all. But as any good chef knows, you have to put them in the fire at some point - even if it figures to be very hot.



Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.


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