Mel Tucker developed Alabama starting DBs early in their careersBy Matthew Speakman | 01/08/2018 12:28pm
ATLANTA- He was there during a crucial stage in their development.
Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker coached Alabama’s defensive backs for one season, but it shaped the way the team performs now. In 2015, Tucker worked with Alabama’s entire 2017 starting secondary in the early stages of their careers.
Anthony Averett, Levi Wallace, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison all learned from Tucker as freshmen or sophomores.
“He taught me a lot,” Averett said. “He definitely simplified the game, and made it a little easier for me to learn. Ever since he left, I think I’ve picked up the defense pretty well. I think that’s because of him.”
Wallace and Averett have been one of the best cornerback duos in the country with Wallace having a breakout season. According to pro football focus, quarterbacks have a 37.5 rating when targeting receivers guarded by Wallace.
Like Averett, Wallace credits Tucker for teaching him at that stage in his career. His influence was a big reason why Wallace developed into a feared cornerback for Alabama.
“He definitely started me off and taught me what I know now with my technique and what I bring to the game,” Wallace said.
During Tucker’s lone season with Alabama, those players developed a personal relationship with Tucker. He taught them technique, but he also taught them about life.
They would spend time with him at his house and off the field. The players even worked on their own impression of him. Wallace said every defensive back from that year can say “How’s it going, big guy?” in a perfect Tucker voice.
As a young player, having that relationship with a coach went a long way.
“He is one of the coolest coaches out there,” Wallace said. “You can go up to him and talk to him about anything outside of football. He’s a great person.”
Tucker came from an NFL background before joining the Crimson Tide’s staff back in 2015. He was defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears.
He brought an NFL style to Alabama. He taught those players how to play like the pros at their respective positions.
“Just having that attention to detail,” Averett said. “In the NFL, everything is about detail and experience. I think he brought that aspect to us.”
Now, Tucker leads a unit that ranked top 10 in the country in total defense. He helped turn linebacker Roquan Smith into one of the best players in the country. Smith won the Butkus Award for the nation’s top linebacker.
Before that, Tucker and Georgia head coach Kirby Smart led one of the best defenses in the country at Alabama in 2015. It’s no shock to any of the defensive backs that Tucker and Smart are doing that same thing at Georgia.
“It's really cool just seeing the success that they've had,” Fitzpatrick said. “I'm kind of not surprised by it. I'm just really happy for them that they're having the success that they've had.”
Alabama’s now experienced defensive backs will see Tucker once again tonight in the national championship. While there’s still a game to play, they are excited to share a moment with him after it’s over, win or lose.
“I plan on giving him a hug after the game,” Wallace said. “He’s one of my favorite all-time coaches. I was lucky to have him.”