The Alabama Crimson Tide are in some serious trouble for the first time in recent history. Their offense looks frantic. The defense isn’t rushing the passer with the same ferocity as we’ve become accustomed to seeing. But Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama’s resident first-round CB prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft, is still putting on a mental clinic in the secondary.
Kool-Aid McKinstry Proves Zone Coverage Chops Against Texas
Alabama’s complex coverages are highly adaptable to most situations, but the aggressiveness of proximity in their match-based deployment can create explosive plays for opposing offenses. The Crimson Tide do not sit back and allow completions in front of them. They are not a “bend-don’t-break” unit.
But the inability to create pressure puts a load of pressure on the secondary to play out of their minds, particularly at the safety position.
What on earth happened to the Alabama pass rush?! pic.twitter.com/8VINCSMVan
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) September 12, 2023
Freshman safety Caleb Downs may have been a consensus five-star who hovered around being a top-10 recruit nationally, but he’s not their Minkah Fitzpatrick yet.
McKinstry is the steady hand in the secondary. Terrion Arnold still has much growth to undertake before becoming a legitimate NFL Draft prospect. Malachi Moore is talented but oftentimes inconsistent. Head coach Nick Saban’s defense must keep on the same page at all times, and McKinstry strives to put guys into the right place.
The above video appears to be a quarters coverage. Texas hopes that the vertical release and inside stem draw McKinstry inside; that way, they’re able to sneak the back behind the defensive line on a wheel route. It’s a clever play design, particularly because Steve Sarkisian creates more action on the right side of the field by sprinting Quinn Ewers out in that direction.
You can see McKinstry point to indicate that he’s passing the in-breaking route off to his safety. His eyes immediately get back to the flat, and he catches the RB wheeling left. At the same time, he recognizes Ewers has sequenced his body in that direction, and he immediately triggers to the flat.
But what might be even more impressive than his zone coverage trigger is his ability to consistently make plays on the ball. His ability to take correct angles and attack the ball at the catch point is a natural ability that few possess. He does this consistently on slants as well. He effortlessly slides his right arm under the receiver’s armpit and attacks the ball without committing defensive pass interference.
The above rep is about as easy a route distribution as you’ll find. The No. 1 and No. 2 WRs are running a smash concept. Texas wide receiver Xavier Worthy immediately drives inside underneath. From there, McKinstry points it out to Arnold, who is supposed to drive on the under route but instead carries the vertical stem of the No. 2.
In that instance, McKinstry takes over the coverage on the No. 2, and there is a good chance that a corner route is coming. McKinstry’s schematic excellence makes a great attempt to keep his teammates in the right spot.
Where Kool-Aid McKinstry Could Improve
In true press coverage, McKinstry is a weapon. He uses his length, physicality, and reactive athleticism to make things difficult at the line of scrimmage for receivers. But he shows particular flaws when operating in the low red zone, albeit an issue that both outside cornerbacks seem to suffer from, so it could be a coaching point.
The tight split and size of Adonai Mitchell clearly worries McKinstry here. He lacked a bit of patience, and it looks like he was caught anticipating a fade here. Mitchell takes advantage of that with a diamond release and is able to cross McKinstry’s face with ease.
Retreating in such a manner that close to the goal line offers too many solutions to the receiver. If McKinstry stays patient upon the release and stayed to the inside hip, he could have carried the fade and likely forced Mitchell to try and slant over the top of him instead of crossing his face underneath.
Again, this is likely a coaching point of emphasis because both sides did it throughout the game. But there was a Worthy drop in the opposite red zone early in the game where he had McKinstry in the spin cycle a bit.
With zone and match coverages becoming more prominent than man at the next level, this isn’t a particularly worrisome thing and a more traditional press deployment could erase these “issues.” After all, his man coverage chops outside of the red zone don’t seem to be an issue.
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