The 2022 Alabama Crimson Tide defense cannot be categorized as anything less than a massive disappointment. Before the season, we were talking about the possibility that it could be the best Nick Saban has ever had in Tuscaloosa, and the talent on paper was certainly there to have that discussion. Not only did it not live up to that high billing, it was really the reason for both of Alabama’s losses this season to Tennessee and LSU.
Of course, college football is a different game than it was in the days of the Crimson Tide winning games via a dominating run game and ferocious defense, but for the unit to flop as much as it did and be a true liability for the team, especially in its losses, was a surprise. The Tennessee game, where Josh Heupel, Hendon Hooker, and Jalin Hyatt simply abused Alabama’s secondary, was particularly telling.
Nick Saban responded this offseason by bringing in (on paper) perhaps the best defensive freshman class ever in his time at Alabama. Pass rusher Keon Keeley was the 2nd ranked player overall in the nation and could certainly factor in. But all the buzz thus far in spring has been about safety Caleb Downs.
Downs, from Mill Creek High School in Georgia, enters his freshman year having been ranked the 6th overall player in the class of 2023 and wants to factor into a secondary right away that loses multiple starting safeties in Brian Branch, who turned into a star down the stretch, as well as Jordan Battle and DeMarcco Hellams.
The reports from spring camp are that Downs, who was an early enrollee and already practicing with the team by Sugar Bowl week, is looking the part and on track to play a key role in this secondary. Nick Saban has played freshmen before on defense if they are ready, and look for Downs to be the next one on that list this fall.