TUSCALOOSA — Since moving to safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick has made the calls for Alabama on defense. Last week, the sophomore defensive back had a role in calling the Crimson Tide’s personnel as well.
Following defensive back Tony Brown’s ejection for targeting in the first quarter, Fitzpatrick was forced to move back to the Star position, leaving his spot at safety open for grabs. Instantly, Fitzpatrick turned to Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and made his case for teammate Deionte Thompson.
“They were going back forth, and DT is in my class,” Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “And I have been really working with him and rooting for him all season and I was talking to Coach Pruitt and I was like, ‘Let’s put DT in.’ And we kind of all agreed and put him in.”
Fitzpatrick could tell Thompson was nervous heading onto the field for his most significant playing time this season. One of the more vocal leaders on the team, Fitzpatrick approached his teammate on the sideline to calm some of the nerves.
“I was like, ‘It’s just another game of football,’” Fitzpatrick said. “He was out there and he did a good job. I don’t think he had any mental errors, so that was really good for him.”
Alabama head coach Nick Saban agreed.
“Deionte Thompson did a good job for what he had to do in the game – and did a good job of executing what he was supposed to do and communicated well,” Saban said. “We didn’t have any real mistakes that were costly in that circumstance.”
Saban has also been impressed with Fitzpatrick’s ability to adapt to situations this season. Fitzpatrick started the year at Star before moving to safety after Eddie Jackson suffered a season-ending leg injury against Texas A&M. Through 12 games, Fitzpatrick is first on the team with four interceptions and is second on the team in pass breakups with seven.
Saban noted last week’s switch back to Star was especially difficult for Fitzpatrick since he is typically unable to practice at both positions during the week. Nevertheless, Fitzpatrick’s experience across the secondary allowed him to make the move effortlessly.
“It’s just adding to my versatility and showing how versatile I am,” Fitzpatrick said. “I wasn’t expecting it. But you just got to do what coach asks me to do, and I did a pretty good job. Coach was happy with what I did.”
Later in the game, starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey came up limping on a play in the third quarter. Humphrey appeared to injure his right hamstring on the play and did not return to the game. Instead, the Tide turned to former walk-on Levi Wallace to take his place. Despite being thin at secondary, Alabama didn’t miss a beat, limiting Auburn to 7 of 19 passing for 116 yards and an interception on the afternoon.
“We always got to work with what we have and no matter who we have, we always try to execute and do our job,” Fitzpatrick said. “And I feel like no matter who you are or what rank you are, or this and that, if you just do your job and do what you’re supposed to do you’re going to be able to play and play well.”
Humphrey has been limited in practice early in the week. However, Saban said the team is hopeful his star cornerback will be OK for Saturday, as the Tide aims for its third straight SEC title. No. 1 Alabama (12-0, 8-0 in the SEC) will take on No. 15 Florida (8-3, 6-2) in the SEC Championship Game at 3 p.m. at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.