Robert Lester has heard all the talk about the Alabama secondary being young, being inexperienced and being the part of this defense most likely to break down.
He’s been hearing it before spring practice began in March.
And while there have been a few instances where the Crimson Tide have bent in their defensive backfield this season, they’ve made a lot more plays than they’ve given up to this point.
Lester, one of the “veterans” back there even though he’s only a sophomore, said it’s taken a while for everybody to fully understand their roles. But he thinks the best is yet to come for this defense and this secondary.
“Our defense is complicated,” Lester said. “But anybody can come in and learn it if you’ll take the time to study it. You have to educate yourself in this defense and learn from the older guys as you go along. I can tell a big difference in the way we’re playing and how fast we’re playing compared to when we started the season.
“The way we bounced back against Arkansas should say a lot about our secondary. The main thing now is executing the game plan every week and eliminating our mental errors. That’s what’s going to take us to being the kind of secondary we all want to be.”
Lester, a third-year sophomore after redshirting his first year, has started the first five games at free safety. He wasn’t a part of the secondary rotation a year ago and played primarily on special teams.
Still, he leads the SEC with four interceptions and is fourth on Alabama’s team with 22 tackles.
Lester agrees that Alabama’s secondary is young. He balks at the notion that he’s young, pointing out that this is his third year in the program.
Echoing what junior strong safety Mark Barron said following the 31-6 win against Florida last week, Lester said youth and inexperience aren't an excuse in Alabama’s program.
“I don’t really consider myself being one of the new guys,” Lester said. “This is my third year here, and I should be one of the guys ready to step up and play. I learned a lot from some of the older guys who’ve left this program, guys like Rashad Johnson.
“I might not have had a lot of experience on the field before this season, but I have a lot of knowledge of what to do and what not to do because I’ve watched the other guys before me.”
Barron said Lester is a classic example of somebody who just needed a chance and reinforces how talented Alabama was on defense a year ago.
The Crimson Tide lost seven defensive backs, and three of those were taken in the NFL draft. Robby Green also played extensively last season in the secondary and was eligible to return, but is sitting out this season because of an NCAA-mandated suspension.
“There were good players in front of Robert,” Barron said. “It wasn’t anything he did or didn’t do. But he’s getting his shot now, and you see how he’s playing.”
Until this season, Lester was probably best known by Alabama fans as the “other” guy in the Julio Jones recruitment. They played high school football together in Foley, Ala., and have been friends since they were kids.
Lester still marvels at how wild Jones’ recruitment was, and he was usually somewhere in the middle of it. Teams were continually trying to get Lester to come on visits and hoping to also lure Jones, who was one of the most coveted high school prospects in the country.
“I heard a little bit of everything,” Lester said. “All I was worried about, though, was what I was going to do and what offers I was going to get.”
He got the one he wanted in Alabama.
And now that he’s getting his shot at Alabama, he’s proving to be a valuable commodity in a supposedly suspect secondary that has given up only two touchdown passes in its first five games.