TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The month of October has been about working on the little things for the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Against a slew of unranked opponents, beginning with Georgia State this past weekend and continuing against one-win Kentucky on Saturday, the matter of remaining undefeated has taken a back seat to improving the product as a whole.
And that, more than anything, means adding to the team's depth.
The offense seems set in that department. Alabama's never had as deep a corps of receivers as it does this season. Chris Black, a seldom used backup this season, led the team in receiving against Georgia State. Even scout teamer Parker Barrineau got a catch. The running backs have gotten plenty of carries, too. T.J. Yeldon has given way to Kenyan Drake, Derrick Henry and Altee Tenpenny, in addition to usual suspects Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart.
But the defense, more importantly, has found some more pieces to the puzzle. The emergence of true freshman Eddie Jackson at cornerback, which began against Colorado State and continued against Ole Miss and Georgia State, is bolstering a secondary that struggled to defend the pass early in the season. The players who began the year as likely starters opposite Deion Belue -- John Fulton and Cyrus Jones -- have given way to Jackson.
Belue, who said with Jackson, the secondary found some chemistry that has been coming for a few weeks.
But Belue sees more in Jackson that just someone who fits in with the rest of the secondary.
"Oh man, he’s got the whole package," Belue said. "He has the quickness, the speed. He’s got the length, you know, his arms are long. So he brings everything that we need."
But Jackson isn't the only youngster emerging on Alabama's defense which ranks 12th nationally in yards per game (299.8) and third in touchdowns allowed (7).
With Ha Ha Clinton-Dix sidelined indefinitely -- UA head coach Nick Saban said Wednesday that, "Ha Ha's suspended until we make an announcement that he's not" -- true sophomores Geno Smith and Landon Collins have stepped up at free safety in his absence. Collins had two tackles against Georgia State and Smith was one of three defenders to break up a pass in the game.
But their development is an ongoing process. Smith played cornerback as a freshman and transitioned to safety during fall camp. Collins, who has played every spot in the secondary but free safety, took up the position only a week ago.
Said Collins: "It’s, I wouldn’t say easy, but it’s getting back to me and it’s becoming normal."
The youth movement hasn't been limited to the secondary, though. A'Shawn Robinson, a mammoth freshman defensive tackle at 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds, is currently tied for second on the team in tackles for loss (3) and is tied for the team lead in sacks (2).
"A'Shawn Robinson has really made a significant improvement over the last two or three weeks as an upfront guy, which is really important to us," Saban said.
It hasn’t been all good news. True freshman linebacker Reuben Foster has come along slowly. The former No. 1-rated inside linebacker prospect has played in four games this season and registered two tackles in the process.
"He's still got a lot of work to do, most of the younger guys do," UA starting linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "At the end of the day we like to see our guys still play to our standard and then did. They didn't give up a touchdown or a field goal [against GSU]. So we felt like at the end of the day they did what they had to do to play to the Alabama defensive standard."
Saban called Foster someone "we're hopeful can play for us down the road." But he's not the only one. As Saban said following the Georgia State game, now is the time for youngsters like Foster, Robinson and Jackson to step up because there's no telling when their number will be called in the weeks to come.
"We need those guys to get some experience, make some mistakes, so that they can learn from those things," he said. "I think it creates an awareness, especially with young players, of how important it is to prepare and pay attention to detail when you're getting ready to play, because a lot of those guys are one injury from having to play."