Alabama will be looking for all the help it can get in the secondary this fall, and one of the players the Crimson Tide were hoping could help won't be able to.
Junior college signee DeQuan Menzie ruptured his Achilles tendon while playing pickup basketball earlier this week and expects to redshirt during the 2010 season. He underwent surgery Thursday, and his recovery could take up to six months.
Having lost so many players in the secondary, Alabama signed Menzie with the thought he would be able to come in and play right away.
But with Menzie sidelined and junior safety Robby Green's eligibility for the upcoming season in question, Alabama's secondary for the 2010 season will easily be the most unproven unit on the team.
The stalwart back there is junior Mark Barron, who returns as one of the best safeties in the SEC. But after him, it gets dicey.
Right now, sophomores Dre Kirkpatrick and B.J. Scott are working with the first team at cornerback, although true freshmen DeMarcus Milliner and John Fulton are both extremely gifted. Kirkpatrick is pretty well entrenched. He's probably the next star cornerback for the Crimson Tide with his mix of speed, instincts and confidence.
Given Nick Saban's track record, it's unlikely that he's going to throw a true freshman out there at cornerback, particularly early, which makes the addition of LSU transfer Phelon Jones all the more important.
Jones is also working in the cornerback rotation and is a candidate for the Crimson Tide's all-important "star" position in the nickel package. It's the same position Javier Arenas played in the nickel last season.
Sophomore Robert Lester is working as the other starting safety opposite Barron.
Saban said this week that he likes what he sees from a talent standpoint in the secondary, but he'd trade some of that talent for more experience.
"To me, you’re always better off when you have guys who have experience, because they will make less mistakes," Saban said. "Even if guys are talented and are going to be really good players, they usually end up costing you back there."
Case in point: Alabama's loss to eventual national champion LSU in 2007.
Arenas, an inexperienced sophomore at the time, was forced into action late in that game. Granted, he left Alabama as an All-American, but Saban said Arenas' inexperience that night was probably the difference in the game.
"He messed up in two-minute, didn’t cover the right guy, covered him wrong and made a couple of mental errors," Saban recalled. "He was a talented kid who was going to be a really good player, but he wasn’t ready to play and he hadn’t played.
"And when he got out there, he kind of froze up, and one mistake led to another. So to have that maturity about you is critical, and that has to develop with these guys."
Saban said he expects to have an answer on Green before the summer. At this point, Saban is planning on not having him.
"But it would be helpful if he was here," Saban said. "We just don't have enough guys who've played back there."