McKinney looks to bring leadership to secondary

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McKinney looks to bring leadership to secondary

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Ben Stansell, Assistant Sports Editor

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Heading into last offseason, Alabama’s secondary was full of question marks. Besides safety Deionte Thompson, every other position was seemingly up for grabs. As a rising sophomore, Xavier McKinney established himself as the starter alongside Thompson and became a breakout star during the season.

As spring practice gets underway this year, McKinney is the old head of the secondary and is poised to fill Thompson’s leadership role.

“Of course, now I’m kind of like the vet,” McKinney said. “I’ve been here, so I kind of know what goes on and a lot of the things that go on around the building. Just helping the younger guys get prepared, helping everybody stay focused, that’s kind of a big part of being here for my third year.”

McKinney has always considered himself to be a leader, but his leadership has never been as critical to the development and success of the secondary as it is now. He’s responded to the increased responsibility well, according to coach Nick Saban.

“You couldn’t ask a guy to set a better example,” Saban said of McKinney. “I mean, his practice habits have been phenomenal these first three practices. I mean, he’s doing everything he can to set a good example and be a leader for other players.”

The secondary that McKinney will be charged with leading is not nearly as inexperienced as it was last season. Including McKinney, the Crimson Tide is returning four starters, with Trevon Diggs and Patrick Surtain II expected to be the starting cornerbacks and Shyheim Carter set to fill his role as the star defender or potentially move to one of the safety positions.

Despite the number of experienced players returning, Saban is concerned about the unit.

“Depth at safety is an issue,” Saban said. “We’ve got some young guys coming in next year, and they’re going to have an opportunity to contribute. And we’ve got to get the guys that we have here now playing better with more consistency.”

Developing the younger defensive backs is where McKinney’s guidance will be especially important. His leadership this offseason is fueled by the painful memory of Alabama’s blowout loss to Clemson in the national championship less than three months ago. He’s taken the defeat personally and expects his teammates to as well.

“Of course, I try to remind the guys of how the season ended last year,” McKinney said. “That gets me going and gets my energy levels up. That was a big part of how I started spring.”

McKinney had 74 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions last season, but the way he’s practicing this spring indicates that he’d like to post even better numbers as a junior.

“Xavier’s done a great job, has had a great offseason,” Saban said. “I think he was one of the best performers each week that we did offseason workouts for four weeks.”