Alabama’s secondary: Year one under Mel Tucker
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Alabama’s defensive backs coach Mel Tucker is no stranger to working with head coach Nick Saban. Tucker’s coaching career started in 1997 as a graduate assistant under Saban at Michigan State. He would later follow Saban to Louisiana State University in 2000, and joined his staff as a defensive backs coach. Tucker achieved success as a defensive backs coach and co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State from 2001-04.
He was a member of head coach Jim Tressel’s staff, during the Buckeyes’ 2002 season (national champions). Tucker placed six Ohio State defensive backs in the NFL Draft, including cornerback Chris Gamble (starter on the 2002 national title team).
Tucker is now back in college football, after spending nine seasons in the National Football League with the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears. He was hired onto Saban’s staff on Jan. 26, 2015. Tucker, 43, has brought energy and enthusiasm to Alabama’s secondary.
Alabama had a difficult time playing physical and facing the ball last season. Junior cornerback Eddie Jackson was inconsistent with his footwork. He and teammate Bradley Sylve both struggled with playing the ball in the air. Cyrus Jones, a senior, was clutch last season. He totaled 46 tackles, 13 pass breakups and three interceptions.
One cannot replace the leadership and production that Landon Collins and Nick Perry brought to Alabama’s secondary, but players like Geno Smith and Maurice Smith will give it an effort. Geno Smith finished with 56 tackles in 2014. Five-star cornerbacks Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey look to have more field time.
Tucker has taken the secondary back to basics. Alabama’s worked on form tackling, taking good angles and creating turnovers. Its spring game on Apr. 18, 2015 provided flashes of what could happen in the fall. Alabama’s defense forced six turnovers, five of which were caused by its secondary. Anthony Averett, Marlon Humphrey, Maurice Smith, Ronnie Harrison and Jabriel Washington all recorded an interception. Harrison, a freshman, already looks the part at strong safety. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Harrison has exceptional ball skills and is a sound player. He along with Laurence “Hootie” Jones will be the tandem to watch in the future.
Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has worked with Alabama’s secondary since 2008. He’s done a decent job, but Smart is a linebackers coach at heart. Saban moved Smart to inside linebackers coach in the offseason. He’s now working with Reggie Ragland, Reuben Foster, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Keith Holcombe. Alabama’s front seven is poised to be the scariest bunch in the Southeastern Conference in 2015. Tucker has a chance to make the back five just as potent.