TUSCALOOSA — Patrick Surtain just chuckled at the idea his only son and namesake would ever articulate any concern with a coach’s decision.
Alabama sophomore cornerback Patrick Surtain II, the progeny of the former three-time Pro Bowl cornerback with the Miami Dolphins and current head coach at American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla., simply wasn’t raised like that.
“If you knew Pat, you’d know nothing bothers this kid. He just goes about his business,” Surtain Sr. said on Monday. “I guess he just looked at it as business as usual: ‘They want me to do something else, I’m going to do it to help the team.’ It speaks to his character and the kind of person that he is.”
Of course, with a mentality like that — although highly commendable — the elder Surtain sometimes must take it upon himself to speak up in his son’s best interests.
“I had to even tell some of the coaches, ‘Man, hey, y’all got him on like five special teams (groupings),’” Surtain Sr. said with a chuckle, “but it shows the trust that they have in him that he’s going to do things the right way. At the same time, five special teams, that’s (a little much for a returning starter).”
Entering his second season with the Crimson Tide, the former five-star cornerback from a year ago — who started 12 games as a true freshman last season — has seen his role on the team increase this offseason, including making the move to Alabama’s vital Star/nickel-back position.
Surtain’s shift inside to Star is widely viewed as both a sign of the Alabama coaching staff’s confidence in the talented sophomore’s continued development and their desire to create more opportunities for fellow sophomore corner Josh Jobe and others within the secondary this season. Last year’s starting Star, senior Shyheim Carter, has seemingly slid back to free safety to compete alongside fellow senior Jared Mayden, but also provides quality depth and experience should either of the previously-mentioned sophomores struggle any during the season.
Not that Surtain II is worried about any of that at the moment, preferring to focus on what he needs to do to better embrace the challenge.
“It's a new learning process for me, (so) I'm just still working on it, still competing,” Surtain II said Monday.
Surtain’s father, of course, is quite confident his son can handle it.
“I think in that second year it really slows down for you, and with him playing multiple positions this year I think it’ll give him a better opportunity to make plays,” Surtain Sr. said.
For the younger Surtain, playing Star is simply an opportunity to take his game to the next level, and prove his coaches’ faith in him has been well-placed.
"It means a lot for me, just because that means the coaches believe in me to play that position,” Surtain II said. “The coaches have a lot of trust in me, so I believe I should carry it on and take that position well.”
His teammates agree.
“I think Pat’s grown tremendously. He has tremendous ability and last year he was playing like he was young — he was just finding his way,” senior cornerback Trevon Diggs said of Surtain, “but now he improved like he knows the plays, he knows calls, he knows adjustments, he knows things like how to read routes so I’ve seen him grow tremendously.”
That growth, especially when it comes to the mental side of the position – properly reading routes and tendencies before the snap and making the correct adjustments – has been as important if not more so than any other part of his continued development, including physically getting the job done in coverage.
That’s where his father comes into the picture, imparting some of his professional wisdom having played 11 seasons in the NFL.
“Anytime I can help . I played at the highest level and that’s what made me the player I was,” Surtain Sr. said. “Just understanding the game and understanding how offenses want to attack the defense and certain coverages, always knowing where the weak spot is and where your help is at in every coverage. And I’ve been able to relay that to him.”
According to Surtain Sr., first-year Alabama associate defensive coordinator/safeties coach Charles Kelly has already made the natural comparison between Surtain II and former Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey, whom Kelly coached during his four years as the Seminoles defensive coordinator (2014-17).
“Coach Kelly kind of compared them because he’d seen Pat in high school and he knew what kind of player Jalen (Ramsey) was, he actually recruited Pat to Florida State,” Surtain Sr. said. “So he knew what he was getting (in Surtain II) as a player when he went to Alabama. He coached Jalen at that position and I guess sees some similarities.”
Both are considered larger press-cornerbacks with similar builds — Surtain II is 6-foot-2 and 203-pounds while Ramsey is 6-1 and 208 entering his fourth season with the Jacksonville Jaguars — and, coincidentally enough, Ramsey was also thrust into the Star position within FSU’s defensive scheme as a sophomore.
The ability to play in the Star/slot defensively can be considered a challenge for most larger cornerbacks, especially given the usually shifty nature of slot receivers. But the athletic and physical Surtain II is bucking that trend, proving to be more similar to another ex-Alabama first-round pick that made the Star position his home for three years in Tuscaloosa: Minkah Fitzpatrick (6-1, 207), who played Star as a freshman and junior between a midseason move to safety following an injury to Eddie Jackson in 2016.
“I feel like when you’re in the slot, people think the position is supposed to be smaller so you can move (with) those guys,” said Diggs, who also saw time at Star during spring practice. “Pat and I are bigger guys but we can move just as well as the smaller guys so I feel like ... we have an advantage because quarterbacks (will) normally read the Cover 2 and throw that seam route, (and) it’s harder to get that (pass) over our heads because we’re taller and longer . I feel like that’s our advantage, and we can move as well so I feel real good (about Surtain at Star).”
And much like Fitzpatrick did before him, there’s a belief Surtain will not only prosper at Star, but it will only further aid in his quest to follow his father's footsteps into the NFL.
“I think it shows they trust him first-and-foremost, they know how valuable he is, they know what kind of skill set he has,” Surtain Sr. said. "That just shows how they feel about Pat and what he can bring to the table."