When you operate a defensive scheme that's as complex as the Alabama Crimson Tide's, you truly need corners that are adept at both man- and zone-coverage principles. Corners must possess the ability to play with their eyes on the quarterback, turn and run with receivers in trail technique and tackle in space. Additionally, whether in off-man or in press technique, corners must be as physical as it gets.
When you're tutored by renowned defensive back coach Nick Saban, I'm pretty sure you've heard that name before, you will undoubtedly leave Tuscaloosa a much more polished player than you entered. Players like: Kareem Jackson, Dre Kirkpatrick and Dee Milliner parlayed Saban's teachings into being first round draft selections.
We watched all three grow into elite talents by their final years at The Capstone, respectively. But with that being said, I truly believe that freshman corner Tony Brown might be the pick of the litter and could leave Tuscaloosa the best corner of the Saban era.
Lofty expectations you say? Maybe not lofty enough!
Being a top-notch corner is every bit about being sound in your technique as much as it's about your athleticism or size. The best corner in the game, Darrelle Revis (apologies to Richard Sherman fans), is about as polished as one can get in every aspect. His pedal is smooth, his transitions are seamless, his press technique can crack a chest plate and his tackling is impeccable.
At 5'11", 198 pounds, Revis has the perfect build to mesh all those aspects. He's strong, agile and intelligent. Not to mention he's one of the most competitive players at the position. Those aforementioned qualities can most certainly be applied to Brown as well.
Here we see Brown matched up with future Baylor University star receiver K.D. Cannon at a Nike Camp; Cannon is running a dig route. Notice how Brown displays the perfect pre-snap technique. His feet are shoulder-width apart, and he's not too far over his skis. His hands are already in position to strike the receiver with a jam.
He does a great job of opening up his hips as Cannon pushes upfield. A lot of corners will panic and come our of their pedal too early in attempt to maintain cushion.
Brown does a great job of using his hands inside the "money zone," which is the five-yard area you can be physical without drawing a penalty. But make no mistake; Brown is as "handsy" as it gets—so he will need to work on not grabbing receivers outside of that area.
This is some wonderful stuff right here. Brown has an innate ability to mirror routes and transition out of breaks like receivers in the short-to-intermediate game. This type of blanket coverage is a necessity when you unfurl as many manufactured-pressure packages as the Tide.
Innate Physical Gifts
While polished technique often separates the good from the great, possessing elite athleticism—with said technique—distinguishes the accomplished from the superstars. At 6'0", 190 pounds, running a reported 4.35 40-yard dash, Brown has the kind of athleticism one could only hope to find at the position.
Doubling as a track athlete, Brown's physical gifts will only be cultivated by that program as he continues to grow physically.
When you have that type of speed, it can often be to your detriment the further a play gets down field. This was evident in Alabama's annual spring intrasquad scrimmage.
Supporters of the Crimson and White finally got a chance to see the much ballyhooed freshman in action in this tilt. Despite nursing a shoulder injury, suffered in track, Brown showed that he will be a competitive force of nature for the next few seasons in Tuscaloosa.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, he was lined up against his offensive counterpart who also looks like he will dominate for years to come.
Here's Brown against that aforementioned future star Robert Foster. Notice how Brown fires out of his stance in retreat mode rather than firing at Foster's chest plate. On routes where you feel the receiver cheating upfield, it's always to your benefit to perform what's called a look-and-lean technique.
You want to get out on top of the route; shield the receiver; locate the ball in the air.
Brown never did get his head around and Foster did a fantastic job pushing upfield on a throw that veered to the pylon. But in what may be the most damning moment of the entire game, Brown was put in that same exact situation later in the game.
This is the mark of a great defensive back. You're going to get beat at times; it's the nature of business. It's about how quickly you can put those negative plays behind you; obviously he didn't let play continue to beat him as he plays the same exact route almost to perfection.
Brown's uber-competitiveness is exactly what the doctor ordered. Fans know all too well that you can't totally rely on pressure from the front-7, you need corners that can stick to receivers in Velcro-like fashion. Last season's Texas A&M game exemplifies that theory.
That game alone may have made Brown the most important acquisition in this draft class—along with fellow freshman corner Marlon Humphrey.
Browns' strengths, man-to-man press coverage and tackling, didn't arrive in Tuscaloosa by happenstance. Last year's set of corners struggled in man coverage, and with their tackling, which put the manufactured-pressure game behind the proverbial eight ball
When it's all said and done, we may very well say that Bama had its best set corners of the Saban era with Brown, and Humphrey, in the fold for the next few years.
Murf Baldwin covers the Alabama Crimson Tide for Roll 'Bama Roll in addition to being a staff writer for The Falcoholic. He previously covered the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints for Bleacher Report. Are you not entertained? Follow Murf on Twitter.