The defensive side of the ball has consistently seen Alabama players earn accolades and eventual pro careers. It’s not a new phenomenon, of course. For a century, the Crimson Tide’s identity has been a punishing ground game and an equally ferocious defense. But, Saban’s reputation for attracting talent and developing them in a complex defensive scheme — indeed the position unit for which he is synonymous, has been particularly apparent in the secondary. No matter who coaches the DBs or calls the defensive Xs and Os at the Capstone, it is his defense...and they are especially his DBs.
Today, we kick off our look at the standout underappreciated defenders with a look at those cornerbacks.
Simeon Castille, Cornerback
The Castilles, like the Goodes, are dynastic Alabama royalty. Simeon’s dad, Jeremiah, was one of the last truly great Bryant players, and indeed was a pallbearer at Bryant’s funeral. His brother, Tim, was a multi-year starter for the Tide. His other brother, Caleb, was a walk-on with the Crimson Tide. And of them all, it may be Simeon who had one of the better collegiate careers that we never remember.
Initially a safety, the three-star out of Briarwood Christian, came to an Alabama team that was saddled with recruiting sanctions and bereft of much high-end talent. A bit light for a conference that was still run-first, he did have the length (6’1”) to move to the outside. Once he landed at corner, he found himself thrown into the fire early, where he played in all 11 games as a true freshman in 2004. The next three years, he would start every game.
Over his entire career, the overlooked Castille was a producer. He recorded a pair of interceptions and scored his only touchdown as a true freshman. The next season, he played a much more active role in the defense, and was an edge-rush terror from the defensive backfield. Over the next three seasons, the sure-tackling Castille notched 4.5 sacks, 14 TFL, and recorder 162 total tackes (103 solo).
It took quite an individual effort to be recognized on some bad Alabama teams, but he did garner that love following the 2006 season, when he was a First-Team All-SEC performer. And he was a First-Team Preseason All-SEC in Nick Saban’s first season.
While his production dipped in his senior season in a new scheme, his play became fundamentally much more solid — he went from an instinctive player and draft afterthought to at least being invited to the Combine, just one of three ‘Bama players to do so. And with a coach that was serious about performance, Castille gained 14 pounds and shaved .17 of a second off his 40 time in just a year, while beginning to learn modern defensive schemes. Combined with his knack for being around the ball, those skills and conditioning greatly aided Castille when he signed as an UDFA in 2008. He played semi-pro and professional football for almost a decade thereafter, including four seasons in the NFL.
Cyrus Jones, Cornerback
Hard to believe Cy has been out of college almost half a decade, isn’t it?
When we think of great Alabama corners of the last dozen years, the diminutive Jones is hardly ever one of the first we mention. And that’s an absolute crime. Following the weak corners of the 2012 class and the disastrous ones of the 2013 Tide, the 2014-2015 secondaries were young and thin, but featured a lot of critical starters who had Alabama in the national title hunt for years to come. Some, like Eddie Jackson, were even playing out of position.
And it was ultimately that 2014 defensive backfield that saw a new group of playmakers arrive: Tony Brown, Marlon Humphrey, Anthony Averett, and Eddie Jackson just to name a few. But, do you recall the other corner? The dependable one...that would be Cyrus Jones.
If there is one word to describe Jones, it is precisely that: dependable.
Coming to campus in 2012 at just 5’10”, 200 pounds, Jones should not have turned into the all-around playmaker that he was. Jones wasn’t going to get on the field at wideout...though the Staff spent an entire year slotting him there. He didn’t make much of an impact, hauling in just 51 yards on 4 catches in seven games.
But, when he was moved to the defensive backfield in 2013 — a season he spent learning corner, star and money — we began to see the real flashes of what the speedy Jones could deliver. Playing in 9 games, he tallied his first and only collegiate sack, added another 1.5 TFL, and picked up a pair of interceptions, to go with his 25 tackles and 5 PBU. The next season, he would lock down a starting spot on the outside and see a career marked by play well above what his height should allow. The next two years as a full-time starter, Jones forced 4 fumbles, recovered 3 fumbles, picked off 5 passes, had 6 TFL, 81 total tackles — and of those, 65 were unassisted.
Cyrus also made his mark on the punt return team, adding a dynamic dimension to an Alabama offense that had been struggling in the PR game in the years following Marquis Maze’s departure. In his 2015 senior season, Jones was outstanding. He hauled in 42 punts for 530 yards and scored four touchdowns.
Jones was drafted in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft, and is presently with the Denver Broncos. His main contributions have come as a punt returner. But the athletic, fleet, technically-sound and surprisingly-physical Jones may have finally found a home in the Mile High City, a team desperate for more help in a division that includes the air raid-friendly Chiefs.
DeQuan Menzie — We remember how incredibly bad-ass that 2011 defense was, but we largely forget the corners, the weakest link on that team. The exception was DeQuan Menzie. There are few players who grew as much from one year to the next as Menzie did from 2010 to 2011. While he only recorded one INT, that as a senior, he tripled his PBUs that year, became an even more active tackler, forced a fumble, and scored a touchdown. Most people don’t even recall this, but Menzie was a First-Team All-American in 2011. It may have been a one-year flash in the pan, but it was a great year. Menzie signed as a 5th round selection in 2012, and bounced around for a few years on NFL practice squads.
See also Marquis Johnson. Just about all of the things about Menzie hold true for Johnson. However, his development was a longer and slower one. But, eventually, he rounded out into a very good, productive corner his senior season. Like Menzie, Johnson signed with the NFL and spent a few years playing pro ball. He did, however, see some meaningful time over his three seasons under the Shield.
Tony Brown, Star
It’s hard to pick a pure Star in Alabama’s defenses who have not also gone on to be stars in their own right. Typically, we see the next generation of great corners playing there as they learn the scheme. Or, we find that next generation of All-American safeties roaming near the line: DeQuan Menzie, Javier Arenas, and Minkah Fitzpatrick were all at the Star at some point in their career. And the position requires a lot of the players, frankly. It requires an instinctive knack for being around the play, good ball skills, sure tackling ability, and enough speed to cover the slot.
Call it recency bias...or even my outright bias in favor of this lovable cad, but I’m giving the nod to Crazy Tony.
Brown’s larger-than-life personality, willingness to move outside in the face of injuries, and coming up big in some bigger moments, make Tony a pretty good choice here. His notorious smack-talking and loose cannon personality, we recall. Sure. But Crazy Tony was highly productive too playing out of such a niche position. Brown played all four years at Alabama, racking up 56 tackles, 4.5 TFL, a sack, a FF, 5 PBU, and three interceptions. And perhaps none were as critical as the one he made in the 2018 CFP Championship game where (again) out of necessity he had been moved to the outside. An underthrown ball by Fromm physically wrestled away by Tony would eventually be one of the plays that proved to be the difference in the game — that was a wide-open touchdown otherwise.
Brown was signed by the Chargers in 2018, where he was on the practice squad. However, the Bolts released him to Green Bay, where he played for the two years. This offseason, he signed with the Bengals, a team getting long in the tooth at DB.
Also Considered: Nick Perry
Before he was a starting safety, the oft-injured Perry bounced around a whole lot in the defensive backfield, playing at nearly every position. In fact, it was the 2012 season playing at Star where Perry made his greatest impact. During that year, he notched 38 tackles, a sack, 2 PBUs, and forced a fumble. Following a catastrophic injury in 2013, Perry moved to safety — a trajectory that we would see two years later following a catastrophic knee injury to the NFL’s highest paid safety, Eddie Jackson.