With the recent transfers of Kendall Sheffield and Maurice Smith, let's take a look at the current state of the defensive backfield. From Charlie Potter at 247:
- Alabama lined up in its dime defensive package with Marlon Humphrey and Anthony Averett at corner, Laurence Jones and Eddie Jackson at safety, Ronnie Harrison at Money, Minkah Fitzpatrick at Star and Reuben Foster at Mack.
- The second dime group was comprised of Jared Mayden (with Aaron Robinson shadowing) and Tony Brown at corner, Trevon Diggs and Deionte Thompson at safety, Jones (with Keaton Anderson shadowing) at Money, Shyheim Carter at Star and Shaun Hamilton at Mack.
Looking at the first unit, four of the six are returning starters playing in the same role as last season. Returning four of the top six defensive backs on the roster is generally viewed as a positive, particularly if there is little separation between the six. The base defense is expected to see little to no drop-off, as last year's nickel and dime backs, Fitzpatrick and Harrison, respectively, should be able to step in admirably for the departed Cyrus Jones and Geno Matias-Smith.
The challenge for 2016, from the beginning, was going to be replacing Jones and Matias-Smith in the nickel and dime packages.
Coming in, the candidates to replace Matias-Smith were Hootie Jones, Deionte Thompson, and Tony Brown. Little has changed in that regard, except that Brown is now working at cornerback as well. While Brown hasn't been a starter in his career, he has contributed at both corner and safety, and will likely have a role of some sort once he returns from suspension. Based on the clip above, it looks to be Hootie Jones leading the battle for the third safety spot. This will be an interesting competition to watch going forward. Trevon Diggs seems to be making a push at that spot as well.
Nothing against Geno, but replacing a #1 CB, particularly one that went in the second round of the NFL Draft, was always going to be more difficult. As stated, the base defense should be fine, but reality is that teams don't play much base anymore. Coming in, the candidates to replace Cyrus in the nickel were Maurice Smith, Kendall Sheffield, Anthony Averett, and a bevy of talented freshmen.
Needless to say, we are now down to Averett and the freshmen.
Only time will tell whether we are truly worse off, but it's hard to believe that Sheffield was winning the battle since he decided to transfer. Reports are that freshmen Mayden and Carter were pushing him hard, and Anthony Averett was someone that Saban had been talking about since the spring. As for Smith, he signed in 2013 and had a hard time getting on the field. He was passed up by Brown, Fitzpatrick, Humphrey, and Harrison at a minimum. It is understandable that he would have been concerned about his role in his final year of eligibility.
Of course, Averett signed in the same class as Smith and has actually seen even less action than Smith did. Saban has been talking him up, but until we see him in action he will be as unknown as the freshmen. Having a freshman as a #3 CB wouldn't necessarily be a cause for alarm given the quality of the players in the class, but there will still be an unknown quantity at that position.
Such is life in college football. If the biggest concern on the roster turns out to be the #3 CB, this will probably be another very successful season for the Tide.
Still, as we like to say around here, "Hope for the best."