Opposing quarterbacks now have one more person to lose sleep over when facing Alabama.
As if defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and linebackers Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson hadn’t caused enough nightmares, the Crimson Tide can now add a new member to its vaunted pass rush.
Last week defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick joined in Alabama’s pass rushing attack, as he was credited with 1.5 sacks against Kent State. Normally busy using his combination of speed and strength to battle opposing receivers at the Star position, Fitzpatrick got to show how effective he can be coming in unblocked around the edge.
“It’s fun, it just adds to my versatility and my package,” Fitzpatrick said. “When I get to do what I don’t usually get to do, it’s a whole lot of fun.”
At 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, Fitzpatrick is the smallest player to register a sack for the Tide this season. But don’t try telling that to opposing quarterbacks who have to deal with the defensive back coming at them at full speed.
“I know once he’s coming, he’s coming,” Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley said. “And he has a lot of heart, so he makes plays for the defense, and we’re grateful for it.”
Fitzpatrick ability to blitz gives opposing offenses one more thing to plan for when facing an already imposing defense. Kent State was able to limit the Tide’s primary pass rushers last week, holding Anderson, Williams and Allen to a combined one sack.
Before his first sack, Fitzpatrick went up to Allen and joked with the defensive lineman that he was going to pick up the slack.
“I was like, ‘I’m about to get one. I’m about to get one,’” Fitzpatrick said. “He was like, ‘Man, no you’re not,’ and I was like, ‘Watch.’ And so I got it and then after the play, he like hit me in the head. He was like, ‘Man you messing around too much stealing my sacks.’”
The friendly competition carries over to other parts of the defense, with Tide defenders comparing everything from tackles to interceptions.
“That’s why we’re one of the best in the country because we love to compete,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m competing with like Reuben (Foster) trying to get the most tackles on the team, and Reuben’s trying to get more picks than me so we’re always trying to compete and get each other better.”
For the record, Foster currently leads the Tide with 29 tackles and is followed by Fitzpatrick with 20. After hearing that Fitzpatrick was coming for his lead, Foster laughed and said he welcomed the challenge.
“Hey, if he gets it that means our defense is great,” Foster said.
Despite Fitzpatrick’s ability to contribute on pass rush, he isn’t ready to give up his “day job” as one of the Tide’s top pass defenders. Fitzpatrick is tied with fellow sophomore defensive back Marlon Humphrey with three pass breakups this season.
Last season, Fitzpatrick led the team with 11 pass breakups while also returning two interceptions for touchdowns en route to being named a Freshman All-American. When asked what’s more fun, getting a sack or making a play in the secondary, the answer was easy.
“Definitely a pick, because that’s my job,” Fitzpatrick said. “I got to have more fun doing that.”
This week, Fitzpatrick and the rest of Alabama’s secondary will receive an extra boost as junior defensive back Tony Brown returns from his NCAA suspension. During his news conference Monday, Saban said Brown will play on special teams before being worked in at both Star and cornerback.
“The last couple of weeks he’s been working really hard,” Fitzpatrick said of Brown. “He’s been staying focused, and he’s really boosting up the team’s energy. That’s what he does all the time, and we know we are going to be really happy to have him out there and add some depth to the secondary.”
Opposing offenses can add that to their list of worries as well.
You can write to Tony Tsoukalas at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kentucky at Alabama
- When: 7 p.m., Saturday
- TV: ESPN, 7 p.m.
- Radio: WIOL-FM 95.7, 4 p.m.