MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's secondary has a whole new look, with everyone from All-America safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt having moved on.
The defending national champions must replace six key defensive backs, including every regular starter. Their potential successors have a collective three career starts.
"We have a lot of inexperienced guys there so it's been a little bit of a work in progress," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday. "I think guys have made improvement. Are we where we need to be? Not really. We've got a long way to go. Am I disappointed in the progress? No. But I really enjoy the challenge of trying to coach the guys."
Saban works with the defensive backs in practice, along with new secondary coach Karl Scott. Newly promoted defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi coaches the outside linebackers. Pruitt worked with the secondary before leaving to take over Tennessee's program.
The only returnees with starting experience are safety Deionte Thompson, who started both playoff games after an injury to Hootie Jones, and cornerback Trevon Diggs. Diggs started last season's opener against Florida State.
Thompson is hoping to build on that late-season experience.
"It helped me a lot," he said. "Getting those two games under my belt, being out there with Minkah and those guys, it really helped me, and it's going to help me this season."
Alabama also has plenty of reinforcements. The Tide's five defensive back signees are led by former LSU player and junior college transfer Saivion Smith and Florida prep cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. Both were rated the No. 1 cornerback in their respective signing classes, Smith in 2016 and Surtain this year.
Smith is already enrolled and going through spring practice. Surtain will arrive this summer.
"We've got some young players coming in," Saban said. "There's no doubt that we're going to have to use some of those guys for some depth at some of our positions in the secondary."
The secondary is so thin that this spring the receiver who caught the winning touchdown pass in the national championship game, DeVonta Smith, is getting some work at cornerback. That's likely just a precaution in case of an emergency next season.
The cupboard is far from bare, but it's a marked difference for a group that had a wealth of experience last season.
Fitzpatrick is projected as a likely top 10 pick in the NFL draft while safety Ronnie Harrison is a potential first- or second-round choice. Fellow defensive backs Anthony Averett, Levi Wallace, Jones and Tony Brown also are gone.
Now, players like Thompson and Diggs are considered among the "veterans" in the secondary. Sophomore Daniel Wright, junior Shyheim Carter and redshirt freshman Kyriq McDonald are also among those trying to carve out bigger roles.
"It's kind of different," Thompson said. "It's something that we have to get adjusted to. I think we're doing a really good job so far in the spring, and we're just going to be preparing and getting ready."