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Alabama Spring Football 2017: Previewing the cornerbacks

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Marlon Humphrey is gone. Who is going to step up?

NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl-Alabama vs Washington Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

After Dee Milliner and Dre Kirkpatrick left until last season, cornerback has been a bit of a weakness for the Tide, with opposing QBs taking advantage of the whole “chuck the ball down the sideline, the ‘Bama CBs will never be able to break one up” thing.

Finally, Marlon Humphrey and Anthony Averett shored things up in 2016, locking down opposing wide receivers for much of the year, even in the era of every team having a prolific passing offense.

This year, there will be some shuffling about in the depth chart, especially after Minkah Fitzpatrick moved from the STAR corner position to be the starting free safety. Likely, we’ll get a very good idea of how Nick Saban plans to organize the secondary this year once we watch the A-day game. Today, however, you get your very own preview of the players you’ll see in action next month.

The Departed

Marlon Humphrey

Aside from the aforementioned Fitzpatrick changing positions, Marlon Humphrey’s early exit to try his luck in the pros is the only loss from the Tide cornerback’s ranks. Humphrey has locked down the left outside corner for the last two seasons, and brought exceptional speed, athleticism, and toughness to the team the entire time. He’s expected to be a late first to early second round pick in the draft.

Returning Starters

Anthony Averett

The redshirt season will continue to wear #28 this season after his first year as a starter in 2016. He played right outside cornerback, opposite of Humphrey. Most were initially hesitant, but Averett’s impressive speed and fluid grace quickly gained him the affection of many fans, and is now viewed as an exceptional lockdown corner in man-to-man, despite being a bit on the smaller side.

Most likely, he will stay on the right side, but if the situation demands, we might see him move over to the left if the coaches think that move is best for the team.

Tony Brown

Wearing #7, the senior has had a bit of a tumultuous career thus far. After getting a few starts as a true freshman, injuries and discipline issues relegated him solely to special teams throughout his entire sophomore year. Then, after Eddie Jackson went down and Minkah Fitzpatrick moved to safety to take his spot, Tony Brown finally got his chance again and finished out 2016 as the starter in the STAR, or nickel corner.

Brown will be a front runner to continue to start in 2017, though it remains to be seen if the coaches think he’s better suited to stay at STAR, or move to the outside, where he played his freshman year. It will likely depend on who the third corner ends up being.

Returning Reserves

Levi Wallace

The senior walk on, #39, got some real playing experience last year after Eddie Jackson went down and Marlon Humphrey missed some time near the end of the year. Despite being a walk on, Wallace was very obviously the next man up behind Humphrey and Averett on the outside. He’s a lanky player that’s solely suited for the outside, so we likely won’t see him competing for the starting STAR role, but for replacing Humphrey.

Shyheim Carter

The true sophomore, #5, was the top reserve at STAR last year behind Brown/Fitzpatrick. He got extensive playing time in blowouts and occasionally in real game situations due to injuries or fatigue. Carter is extremely quick and solidly-built, a perfect profile for being a STAR corner.

Jared Mayden

Another true sophomore, Mayden has changed his number to #21 this year. He split time between safety and corner during his first year at Alabama, and can probably play any position in the secondary. He’s a bigger corner, sitting at 200 pounds, and has impressive speed to boot. He projects best on the outside.

Aaron Robinson

Wearing # 23, Robinson is yet another true sophomore, and was the lowest ranked in high school of the four that came in last year’s recruiting class. Despite that, Robinson got the most playing time in special teams and mop-up duty, and has drawn the praise of multiple veterans so far this offseason. Robinson is the tallest corner on the team at 6’1”, and, like Mayden, can play on the outside or STAR.

Nigel Knott

The fourth member of the 2016 cornerback recruiting class, #13 Nigel Knott is one of the most athletic beings I’ve ever tracked in high school, running a sub 4.4 forty and nearly a 50” vertical jump. Despite that unparalleled athleticism, Knott took a redshirt his first year to put on some weight (he was under 170 pounds when joining the Tide) and to work on his technique. Unlike the other 3, he’s still a total unknown, as he never touched the field last year. Many fans are quite excited about him, but it remains to be seen if he can live up to his athletic potential.

Newcomers

Kyriq McDonald

At 5’11” 190, the short, yet stout, freshman took the #26 after Marlon Humphrey left the team. He’s an exceptional special teams player, so I don’t think he’ll end up redshirting his first year, as he’ll be a valuable asset, even if not immediately in the secondary. The three-star recruit from Madison, AL, will be in the mix for the STAR position, but likely will not be a factor on the outside.

Chadarius Townsend

Taking #12, the early enrollee is actually listed as a running back on the first Tide roster of 2017. An “athlete” in high school, Townsend played QB, but was recruited as a running back/wide receiver/defensive back. He may stay on offense, but it is my personal belief that he is best suited to use his exceptional speed as a cornerback.

The Pecking Order

This is purely my prediction, not a fact. Feel free to flame away in the comments. I may or may not respond.

Left Corner: Tony Brown, Levi Wallace, Jared Mayden

Right Corner: Anthony Averett, Aaron Robinson, Chadarius Townsend

STAR: Shyheim Carter, Nigel Knott, Kyriq McDonald

I think the real battle here is between Levi Wallace and Shyheim Carter. Tony Brown can play either STAR or outside, so if Wallace is better than Carter, then Brown will stay at STAR, while if Carter is better than Wallace, then Brown will play on the outside.