An unknown quarterback throws a deep bomb down the right sideline. Alabama fans everywhere collectively throw their hands in air in exasperation before the camera even pans to the receiver and defensive back. Starting in week one against West Virginia up until the finale against Ohio State, it was basically assured to be a catch for a huge gain.
The only contributor to leave the cornerback position from last season is junior Eddie Jackson, who was converted to safety this spring. As such, all of the depth returns, and with an extra year of experience under their belt.
After a forgettable sophomore season, the diminutive senior transformed into the most dependable defensive back on the Tide's roster last year. His sticky man coverage led to few quarterbacks being willing to challenge him, and Jones was a disruptive playmaker. He was 8th on the team with 46 tackles, and led the team with 16 passes defended. He added three interceptions and fumble recovery. Jones will be entrenched as one starting cornerback and, barring injury, will probably start every defensive snap for Alabama in 2015.
The Former Back-ups
The six foot, 200-pound junior has spent some time at safety, and is one of the more physical players in the defensive backfield. He had some decent playing time last year in the nickel corner, or "star" position. With 10 tackles, a pass break up, a sack, and a QB hurry, Smith is a corner blitz specialist and excels at tackling around the line of scrimmage. His coverage skills, however, are still mostly an unknown.
The true sophomore is one of the most athletic players on the roster. He's a track star, and runs a sub 4.4 forty yard dash. He got a few starts in the spot opposite Cyrus Jones last year, but was not ready for game action as a true freshman. Brown has flashed strong man coverage ability and amazing recovery speed. His two biggest issues that kept him from securing a starting role last year were his inexperience and constant injuries, particularly his shoulder.
The redshirt senior is the oldest member of the secondary, and probably the most maligned. The former wide receiver has struggled mightily in both coverage and tackling over the years. Sylve started a few games last year, with mostly bad results. However, he did have a decent game in the Iron Bowl when all the other defensive backs were struggling.
The sophomore was one of the lower rated defensive back recruits on the roster. Another former track star, not much is known about Averett aside from his speed, as he has not seen any playing time in a real game yet. He has somewhat filled out his slight frame since arriving on campus two years ago, but is still one of the lighter players in the defensive backfield.
Humphrey is the other half of the five-star duo that came in last year with Tony Brown. The son of Crimson Tide great Bobby Humphrey redshirted last year, and is one of the most physically imposing corners on the roster. He was well-known for his ball skills and playmaking abilities in high school. While many of the fans (myself included) thought Humphrey would be more likely to contribute freshman year, he struggled to grasp the mental responsibilities of the defense and was passed over by Brown.
The New Kids on the Block
The five star freshman addition from Texas is an immensely talented and athletic cover corner. He's known more for his sticky man coverage than his ball skills and tackling. He enrolled this summer, but has supposedly not acclimated with the defensive system very well yet.
The other five star corner in the class of 2015, Fitzpatrick is the opposite type of player as his partner, Sheffield. While raw in coverage skills, Fitzpatrick also worked as a safety and a running back in high school, and is an instinctive playmaker both with the ball in the air and in his hands. Saban has publicly praised him this week, and Fitzpatrick has been seen working opposite Cyrus Jones a couple of times during fall camp.
So Who Gets to Play?
For fun, here is my stab at a depth chart to start the season:
- Left Corner: Cyrus Jones, Marlon Humphrey, Anthony Averett
- Right Corner: Tony Brown, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Brad Sylve
- Star: Maurice Smith
Cyrus Jones is obviously a lock. I think Sheffield will most likely redshirt this year, while Fitzpatrick will see time in relief duty and special teams. I am also not very confident with my Tony Brown pick, and would not be upset if Humphrey or Fitzpatrick pass him in the depth chart for the starting spot opposite Jones. The Star position will probably come down to a rotation between Smith and some of the safeties, such as Jabriel Washington, depending on the package and personnel needed.
Leave your opinions in the comments, and feel free to roast me for my picks.