TUSCALOOSA — Shyheim Carter quietly walked into Alabama's Naylor Stone Media Room on Monday to a gaggle of reporters already interviewing teammate Dylan Moses.
Moving in closer, Carter listened on and took in the scene for several seconds, a wide smile emerging on his face as Moses expertly answered question after question.
Within minutes, the Crimson Tide junior defensive back would be standing surrounded by those same recorders and phones documenting his every word. Even so, he looked to be battling a few more nerves in his first formal media opportunity since landing in Tuscaloosa two years ago out of Louisiana’s Tangipahoa Parish.
“He’s an unassuming kid, humble, and he doesn’t have to be the life of the party,” Kentwood High (Louisiana) head coach Jonathan Foster said of Carter, who was concise and polite during his nearly six-minute interview Monday.
Entering his third season at Alabama, the 6-foot Carter has yet to so much as start a game and only has 14 career tackles to his credit. Yet with an entirely new-look secondary that will feature just one player with more than one career start under his belt — junior safety Deionte Thompson (two career starts) — Carter could be the linchpin that holds Alabama’s inexperienced defense together this season.
Projected to be the Crimson Tide’s starting star/nickel cornerback, Carter’s quiet disposition isn’t just a product of nerves. In fact, it’s part of what has allowed the former high school quarterback to establish himself as one of Alabama’s defensive leaders despite infrequent playing time.
“He’s kind of quiet everywhere. He’s the type of quiet like you’ve got to do the business — he’s like businessman quiet,” sophomore defensive tackle Quinnen Williams said of Carter. “He’s a great leader at all times, on the field, off the field — (a) great leader. He demands the best out of everybody because he gives the best.”
Captained both the offense and defense as a two-way player at Kentwood, Carter’s understanding of the responsibilities of all 11 positions on any given play has allowed the former backup to quickly assert himself as the Crimson Tide's on-field conductor of sorts.
“I take pride in knowing every position, even what the D-line and the linebackers do,” Carter said Monday. “I take that very personally because if someone doesn't know what (to do), then I can always adjust them and put them in the position they need to be in. I like trying to be the quarterback of the defense.”
That mentality is a big reason why his often hard-to-please head coach has repeatedly raved about Carter in several news conferences throughout preseason practice.
“Shyheim is a guy that’s really a bright guy, really knows the system really well, can make a contribution at star or money, (and he) has played some corner for us in the past,” Saban said Aug. 8. “He’s kind of a jack-of-all-trades right now. I think that we need guys like Shyheim Carter, who has shown and demonstrated leadership ability in the secondary, to be able to go out there and execute consistently and do their job and he’s made a lot of progress this offseason.”
For the last three years, former All-America defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick — the eventual No. 11 overall NFL draft pick in April — held the “jack-of-all-trades” title within the Crimson Tide defense, freely roving throughout the secondary to play wherever he was needed at the time.
This season, that role appears to belong to Carter, who has spent much of spring and preseason camp working as Alabama’s first-team star before recently spending time at safety as well — just like Fitzpatrick.
“That’s a lot of praise for Carter, but he can handle it, I’m telling you,” Foster said.
Of course, given all the accolades Fitzpatrick acquired over his three seasons — including winning the Bednarik and Thorpe awards last year — Carter is the first to dispel any direct comparisons to Fitzpatrick.
“I learned a lot from Minkah. He’s a great player, a phenomenal athlete, and I definitely learned a lot from him,” Carter said. “But I try to do my own thing and try to be myself — Shyheim Carter, which is who I am.”
And it’s because of who he is — especially his versatility and knowledge of nearly every position on the field — that coaches and teammates alike have confidence Carter can be a difference maker in his first season as a starter.
“I’m very blessed that I can say that I know multiple positions, and it’s not easy learning it,” Carter said. “Me being able to know multiple positions helps me, and it helps other players on the team that I can teach the position to them or knowing what they have (to do) or knowing their assignment.”