Dre Kirkpatrick? In the weight room? Alone?
“I thought that was a little out-of-character for him to be down there by himself when there is not a group down there,” the Alabama defensive coordinator said. “He was really working hard, and I think he has really bought into that.”
That was the new Kirkpatrick on display. No longer just a top recruit with a big reputation and confidence nearing cockiness, the junior from Gadsden City grew up.
Smart first noticed the change during Capital One Bowl preparations. The solo workout a few weeks later was more convincing.
The top cornerback credits Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide coach spends a great deal of practice time with the secondary — more specifically in Kirkpatrick’s ear.
“He was real tough on me,” Kirkpatrick said. “But it was something I needed, something that he knew that I needed because right now, he’s got me mentally ready for every challenge.”
Saban himself sees benefits from the extra time spent with the prized cornerback. Consistency is the biggest difference in his game.
“And I think that’s largely due to his maturity and his personality,” Saban said. “I think he is much more goal oriented now. I think he realizes from the experience last year and playing that paying attention to detail and doing the little things right can serve him well as a player. He’s more, sort of, into it in every way off the field as well as on the field.”
At 6-foot-3, 192 pounds, Kirkpatrick’s size makes him an ideal cover corner. He can’t cite his exact wingspan, but his long arms give him extra range on the field. His 53 tackles ranked fourth on the team last fall as a first-year starter.
The second of his three interceptions iced the comeback win at Arkansas and one more the following week set up a touchdown in the Florida win.
With his big play potential comes his confident demeanor. Teammates reference his “swag,” that’s easily comparable to Kirkpatrick’s cornerbacking hero — recent Hall of Fame inductee Deion Sanders. He even wears the No. 21 worn by “Primetime.”
“He didn’t back down from nobody,” Kirkpatrick said. “He was always up for a challenge at any point of the day — anytime, anywhere and that’s just how I try to base my mindset.”
But with the position comes the predestined failure rate. Even Sanders allowed a big play or two in his 16 seasons with five different franchises.
South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery hauled in what amounted to the win-sealing catch in the fourth quarter last October despite blanket coverage from Kirkpatrick.
“Well, being on this level it’s something that you have to learn because you’re coming in so highly recruited and every time you mess up, that’s something you don’t want to accept,” Kirkpatrick said. “But coach Saban, by him staying on me, coaching me drilling me and just making me a better player, it made me mentally stronger. So now, it’s just water under the bridge.”
And so the maturation continues.
It’s a routine, Kirkpatrick said, that he picked up from one of the daily speakers who met with the team during preseason practices. It came in handy Wednesday when Kirkpatrick spelt a little later than planned and arrived for a pre-practice meeting right on time.
Still sleepy, he remembered the gist of the speech from a few days back.
“Every time I go on the field from now on, I read the sign I have in the middle of my playbook,” Kirkpatrick said. “I read it. Focus. I just try to focus on my job and it just draws me back in to what I’ve got to get done.”
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for The Star.