Last season you’d have to say that the defensive backs were by far and away the weakest link in the Alabama defense. LSU was able to split their tight ends out wide and lined their wide receivers up on the Tide safeties and they were overmatched time and time again in that game. Taking a few cues from LSU, Texas A&M exploited mismatches in the Tide’s secondary and forced Saban to speed up the development of Geno Smith so that he could play in nickel and dime coverages instead of relying on one of the Tide safeties. Smith started against Georgia and Notre Dame and acquitted himself beautifully as a pass defender and this changed the fortunes of Alabama’s pass coverage. But, Dee Milliner (a certain top 5 NFL draft pick) is gone leaving Smith and Deion Belue as the Tide corners. Gone, too, is Robert Lester – a man whose understanding of the coverages should not be underestimated. Sure, Lester looked bad in coverage several times but he was outstanding in run support and provided leadership in the secondary. Basically, the 2012 secondary didn’t play particularly well and now Alabama has to move forward without their best corner and best safety. Yeesh. Things may be moving from bad to worse this season in the Tide’s defensive backfield so you can see why DB was such a point of emphasis in the 2013 recruiting class.
Deion Belue – 5’11, 179 Senior
While Belue’s class designation tells you he’s a senior, he’s just in his second year in the Alabama defense so it’s right to think that he should show improved play this season. That being said, Belue was the one unexpected and very pleasant surprise in the 2012 signing class as he staked his claim to the starting corner position very early on. Belue’s speed and ability to turn his hips fluidly in coverage was never really a question but the unknown in his game was whether or not he would have the, er, fortitude to come up and take on 200+ pound running backs. Well, Belue did everything that was asked of him last season and turned into more than just a passable corner. He can still become more physical in bump and run coverage so that will likely be his point of emphasis this spring.
Geno Smith – 6’0, 182 Sophomore
When we first saw this Geno Smith (not the QB from WVU), he was getting his butt chewed by Nick Saban while Alabama was leading Arkansas 52-0. Smith evidently had busted a coverage and Saban had the foresight to know that at some point Smith could be playing a vital role in the Tide secondary. For Nick to count on this young true freshman in the future, the mistakes of the present had to be corrected and corrected quickly. A few games later, Smith once again drew the ire of Saban as he made a mistake in coverage and most felt that poor Geno was a dead corner walking. Well, the dead to Saban are the guys he stops coaching up and the ones, like Geno, who do show promise will get coached up hard. The result for Smith was a starting role against Georgia and Notre Dame in nickel and dime packages – the result for Saban was a fix to the ever leaking Tide secondary. Suffice it to say that Geno has earned his stripes and should be one of the starting corners this year. However, you need to remember that he’s strictly been guarding slot receivers so working outside on the perimeter will be a new thing for him. We’ll see how he plays the long ball and how he supports the outside running plays this spring as that will determine whether or not he lines up as a starting corner in 2013.
John Fulton – 6’0, 187 Senior
Fulton is injured this spring and will likely not participate in the practices. As a senior, Fulton has been on the cusps of winning a starting job a couple of different times only to see others win the spots. Once again, it appears he will be on the outside looking in at a starting role but should provide important depth at the position. One quick thing about Fulton – the A&M game. You likely remember it as the game where he absolutely got his butt handed to him and, for the first four or five passes thrown his way, you’d be right. Fulton was on an island with Mike Evans, the Aggies 6’5, 220 lb wide receiver, and Evans quickly caught the first four consecutive balls against Fulton while he watched in horror. But, instead of burying his head, Fulton came back to defend the final five balls thrown Evans’ way and was a key defender that allowed Bama to get back in the game. Fulton impressed me that day as he continued to fight and never got down on himself. Impressive.
Bradley Sylve – 5’11, 178 Sophomore
The time is now for Sylve to make a move if he ever wants to take the field for any meaningful minutes. Sylve actually looked pretty good several times last year during his mop up minutes and reports are that he had a very good fourth quarter program during the off-season. Sylve has the height and speed that you want from a corner but, as a converted wide receiver, the physicality of the position (run support) is the troublesome part. Surprisingly enough, right now Sylve is running with the 1s so we’ll see if he can make an impression before Dee Hart and Cyrus Jones can learn the position and before the four freshmen enroll in the summer. If Sylve ends up locking down one of the corner positions, it will be the first time that I can remember any Bama player under Saban getting a starting position after switching sides of the ball. Perhaps you can think of one but I sure can’t.
Jabriel Washington – 5’11, 183 Sophomore
Like Sylve, Washington is a converted wide receiver. Though he just spent a short time as a wide out, he was soon switched to corner and has followed the same track as Sylve. However, with Sylve forging ahead of Washington, suddenly the spring is a make or break spring for Jabriel because Saban is unimpressed by the corners that he’s moved Christion Jones, Cyrus Jones and Dee Hart over from the offense to compete at the position. Additionally, Saban recruited FOUR corners in the 2013 class. This does not bode well for Mr Washington.
Anthony Averett – 6’1, 180 True Freshman
Averett is fast. Like really fast. He also has the prototypical size that Saban wants his corners to look like. What does that mean? Well, I’d say it means Saban may have found yet another first round talent to play corner for him. Now some look at this 4-star athlete as a safety but I believe he will first get the opportunity to play corner and they’ll go from there. I mean, why waste a man who holds numerous New Jersey state track titles at the safety position? One of Averett, Cook, Jackson or Smith is going to play some next year so we’ll see where Averett falls in that group. The Lighthouse prediction for him is that he’ll likely redshirt since playing corner will be completely new for him. He played safety last year as well as QB for his high school team so a steep learning curve is to be expected for him this summer.
Jonathan Cook – 6’0, 183 True Freshman
Cook is a tremendous story. During his whole life all he ever wanted was to receive a scholarship offer from the University of Alabama. He sent tapes, visited camps and expressed a genuine love of the Capstone but with other corners in play, the staff took a wait and see approach. But, after dominating his senior year and then showing he was the top corner at the Alabama/Mississippi All Star game, the staff became enamored with this 4-star prospect as well. During the All Star game, Cook was awesome and, after the game, Kirby Smart met him at midfield with the phone in his hand and a hearty handshake. Cook took the phone and received the offer from Saban and became pretty emotional. From what I saw, Cook has everything you’d want a corner to have and he played the ball beautifully while it was in the air. We likey Cook!
Eddie Jackson – 6’1, 175 True Freshman
Jackson was a late add to the Bama class and seemingly burst onto the scene about two weeks before signing day. There was a mad dash between LSU, FSU and Alabama to get this 4-star to commit and Alabama spurned at least two other more highly rated (by the recruiting services) corners to get their hands on Jackson. Reportedly, the staff thinks Jackson could be the best corner in the class and that’s saying quite a bit when looking at this talented group!
Maurice Smith – 5’11, 185 True Freshman
Smith played in the Under Armor All American game and certainly seemed to look the part of a corner. He certainly didn’t shy away from contact during that game so that was impressive and then he converted a pick six, as well. This 4-star athlete also spent some time in high school as a WR but he’s destined to play corner at Alabama. Some feel that Smith is the more polished of this freshman group of corners but I’d be hard pressed to pick anyone over Cook. That being said, I’d think it’s between Cook and Smith to see who plays a role as a freshman corner.
Dee Hart – 5’9, 190 Sophomore
You have to feel badly for Dee Hart who tore the same ACL in 2012 that he tore in 2011. With the numbers low in the secondary and perhaps because fewer hard jump cuts are required, Dee Hart is spending all of his time in the Alabama defensive backfield this spring. I loved seeing the infectious attitude Hart had when he was making plays on special teams last season so I feel sad for the kid. Now he’s going to be asked to learn a completely foreign position and he’s going to have to do so while coming off of an ACL surgery. The odds are not good for Dee Hart to make this switch.
Cyrus Jones – 5’10, 192 Sophomore
Unlike Hart, Cyrus Jones actually does have experience as a corner. In fact, in the 2012 Under Armor All Star game, Jones strictly played corner for that team. As a high school senior, it was thought that Jones would start his Bama career out as a defensive back but, instead, he began as a WR. Jones has the quicks and the hips to play corner so it’s our assessment that Cyrus will stay on the defensive side of the ball for the remainder of his time at the Capstone. But, I guess we’ll see if he’s like a duck to water this spring…
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – 6’1, 210 Junior
Meet Verne Lundquist’s favorite player of all time. If you are playing the CBS Drinking Game when Alabama is on, you’d better strike the rule about having to drink every time Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s (or Dix-Clinton Haha as Verne sometimes says) name is mentioned. Regardless of how you say his name, HCD is everything you’d want in a safety. He has the size, speed and ball skills to cover the deep third of the field and he’s also a very adept tackler near the line of scrimmage. HCD can flat-out cover some ground and who could ever forget his ridiculous interception against Notre Dame? In today’s game of defending the spread, having a safety who can cover is of paramount importance and HCD is all that and a bag of chips. Ha Ha!
Landon Collins – 6’0, 202 Sophomore
When you are a five-star stud athlete who publicly went against his momma’s wishes and signed with the Tide, big, big things are expected from you. I think the entire world is expecting Collins to step into the vacant safety position and, by all accounts (and recruiting ratings) he should. However, Vinnie Sunseri, Nick Perry and the forgotten Jarrick Williams will likely do everything they can to fill Robert Lester’s role so we predict a heated battle at this position. Athletically, Collins is a no brainer. He’s big. He’s fast. He hits like a ton of bricks. What’s not to like? Well, it’s yet to be seen if he knows the complicated coverage schemes in the secondary and you’d have to think the older players who have been there longer would have a leg up in this department. Cue the suspense music – this is going to be a fun battle to watch!
Vinnie Sunseri – 6’0, 215 Junior
Our good ole cousin Vinnie had a difficult season last year as he went from starting safety to nickel safety to dime safety to pray for safety. Sunseri’s lack of pass coverage skills were victimized against Michigan and seemingly became more prominent as the season progressed. As Bama was in dime coverage against Georgia in the waning seconds of the game, the Dawgs’ plodding TE juked Sunseri and was finally tackled at the five yard line setting up the final play of the game. While Vinnie is a liability in coverage, he’s a considerable asset as a near the line of scrimmage safety. Look for Sunseri to continue to be used as a pseudo LB in the dime sets but I wouldn’t look for him in any base coverages this season.
Nick Perry – 6’1, 208 Senior
After witnessing Sunseri’s struggles, the next man up was Nick Perry and he had his own struggles in pass coverage. LSU, in particular, lit him up like an exposed Christmas tree and Perry’s failures ushered in the emergence of young Geno Smith into the secondary. Perry knows the coverages and the calls but appears to be athletically inferior to Collins and Williams so the odds are long that you will see Perry fill Lester’s shoes in 2013.
Jarrick Williams – 6’1, 212 Senior
For a man who is coming off of a knee injury, there has been quite a bit of buzz about Williams during the first three spring practices. Williams obviously has the experience to man the safety position so it just boils down to his health and ability to make plays. This will be a fascinating battle to watch as it’s Williams’ last chance to make a splash at safety and all he has to do to claim the role is to beat out 5-star stud Landon Collins. Game on!
Jai Miller – 6’3, 210 “Freshman”
It’s not every day that you see a 28-year-old freshman but that’s exactly what you have in Jai Miller. Miller chose Stanford over Alabama back in 2003 but ended up accepting the Marlins’ offer to play baseball, instead. With the Marlins now paying for his tuition, Miller is free to walk-on and compete for the safety job this spring and the word on the street is that he’s one impressive looking “freshman”. At 28 years old, it’s likely that Miller will spend a ton of time on special teams but the odds are very long that he’ll end up playing any kind of significant role in the secondary this season.
There are a couple of observations to make when looking that the sum total of this group. First, Nick is so “thrilled” with the corners he has on the spring roster that he’s enlisted the help of Dee Hart, Christion Jones (he eventually go back to WR so I didn’t list him above), Cyrus Jones and FOUR talented freshmen to shore things up at that position. True, one or two of the new signee pups could move to safety but that still would leave 5 guys fighting for time with Smith, Belue, Sylve and Washington. Corner appears to be a very unsettled and precarious position for the time being. Then, at safety, you have quite a few bodies but perhaps only two guys with the true athleticism to perform the duties required for the position. Watching Sunseri, Perry and Williams compete with the more athletic Collins and Miller will be a highlight of the spring. Given the need for safeties to be adept at playing corner, as well, you would have to think that the better athletes would have the best chance to succeed. We shall see!