Alabama safety Keaton Anderson has seen the field in each of the Crimson Tide’s last 41 games, dating back to the start of the 2016 season.
The redshirt junior has played a key role on special teams since his inaugural season, but on Saturday in the SEC Championship he’ll likely do something he hasn’t before: Play with Alabama’s first-team defense.
Senior Jared Mayden, who is typically one of Alabama’s two safeties when it shifts into its dime defense (six defensive backs), was ejected from last Saturday’s Iron Bowl for targeting. Since the foul occurred in the second half, Mayden also must sit out the first half against Georgia.
Enter Anderson, who despite limited publicity has received four Player of the Week awards from Alabama’s coaches over the last two seasons (three on special teams and one on defense). That’s tied with Isaiah Buggs’ total and more than Raekwon Davis’. He was also a three-time Special Teams Player of the Week in 2016.
“[Anderson’s] been a core special teams guy for us for several years now, and just continued to work and work and work to where he’s in position now where he has a chance to be successful playing the safety position,” head coach Nick Saban said. “I thought he did a good job in the last game and I think he’s capable of doing a good job in the game coming up as well.”
This is Anderson’s fourth year on Alabama’s defense, a number surpassed by only three defenders on this year’s team: Christian Miller, Jamey Mosley and Johnny Dwight.
He may cede playing time to younger and less experienced players, but he has proven his value to the defense by his practice habits and knowledge of the scheme – in fact, he was lauded for those attributes dating back to high school.
“He’s a smart guy,” sophomore safety Xavier McKinney said. “He knows the defense in and out. To this day, he still helps me with a lot of stuff on defense just because I know he knows, like, everything to do, the places to be at. So, I think he’s doing a great job and will do a great job of filling that role.”
Anderson’s football intelligence is reflected in his versatility. He was a Class 6A All-State honorable mention as a linebacker as a high school junior and was First-Team All-State the following year, totaling over 360 tackles in the two seasons.
After a redshirt year at Alabama, however, and while also reprising his role as one of the team’s most crucial special teams players, he made the switch from linebacker to safety. Anderson has rarely seen the field on defense except late in already-decided games, but teammates have no doubt he can hold his own.
“As we rotate and I go against him sometimes, he’s just like any other,” sophomore wide receiver Henry Ruggs III said. “He makes plays when its his time.”
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