It's the dawn of a new era for Alabama's secondary, as former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker returns to college football. Tucker, 43, has ties to Alabama's head coach Nick Saban at Michigan State (1997-98) and LSU (2000). He intends to make the Crimson Tide's back five just as potent as its front seven, but production must start with its leaders.
Cyrus Jones and Geno Smith both return this fall as seniors. One can't replace the value of Landon Collins, Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams, but Alabama can expect for Jones and Smith to step up.
Jones has been medically cleared to participate in the team's summer conditioning program, after playing in all 14 games last season with a hip injury. Smith encountered a sophomore slump in 2013, but rebounded well last season down the stretch. Both players must come ready to work.
Jones, who stands at 5-foot-10, 196 pounds, returns as Alabama's most seasoned cornerback.
He earned one of the starting roles at corner last season, and totaled 46 tackles, 13 pass breakups, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. His performance earned him second-team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press. Jones's career started as a wide receiver in 2012, but he has transitioned into a mature defensive player. He's played in 36 career games (19 starts), accounting for 54 tackles, five interceptions, 20 pass breakups and 3.5 tackles for loss.
Smith, weighing in at 6-foot, 196 pounds, enters his second season at safety for the Tide.
He transitioned from cornerback to safety in 2013, and finished last season strong with 56 tackles (fifth on the team). Smith collected 3.5 tackles for loss, a pass breakup and a forced fumble.
He's solid in run support, and displays good technique in coverage. Smith will likely play with junior Eddie Jackson on the back line, but he is expected to help groom Laurence "Hootie" Jones and Ronnie Harrison. Maurice Smith and Jabriel Washington should see time at safety as well, but it all starts with Geno Smith. He's seen action in 39 career games (eight starts), recording 69 tackles with 42 solo stops, 3.5 tackles for loss and seven pass breakups.
Alabama's secondary enters 2015 with a chip on its shoulder. It has given up huge plays in the last two seasons. Tucker took this group back to basics in spring practice, but it's up to Cyrus Jones, Geno Smith and others to implement the lessons on the field. Jones and Smith both have an opportunity to secure a worthy NFL draft stock with a solid performance this fall.