Cyrus Jones will be Alabama’s Difference Maker in 2015
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The Alabama Crimson Tide are poised to make another run at a national championship in 2015. Everyone knows how good the front seven of the defense can be, lead by two preseason all-conference players in Reggie Ragland and A’Shawn Robinson. It is the defensive backs that will be need to make the final difference. The secondary has a new look with just one returning starter and a lot of room for improvement going in to the season. Cyrus Jones will be looked at to lead the young secondary and he is ready to take on the role.
Before we look at what Jones can do for this year’s Crimson Tide, let’s take a glimpse into the past at the last three national championship teams from Tuscaloosa.
In 2012, Alabama’s scoring defense was the best in the nation, allowing just 10.9 points a game. They had a solid defensive line and an outstanding linebacking crew lead by C.J. Mosley, but it was the secondary that really made the difference in some big games. During the season, the Crimson Tide defensive backs intercepted 15 passes and allowed just eight touchdown passes the entire year. Demarcus Milliner was the team’s number one cornerback and had a productive final season at Alabama. Milliner was fourth on the team in tackles and intercepted two passes while breaking up 22 others.
The 2011 national champion squad was loaded with talent and only allowed 8.2 points per game. A lot of this squad is now in the NFL and their performance for the Crimson Tide was once again more than the front seven. Mark Barron and Robert Lester were the leaders of the secondary but it was Milliner’s breakout season that helped the defense including an interception return for a touchdown to help put Auburn away in the Iron Bowl. Milliner missed just one game that season – LSU at home in the Game of the Century I.
The 2009 national championship team may be the one that most resembles the Crimson Tide’s 2015 squad. They are loaded at talent on defense with concerns on offense. This team had a little more experience in the secondary but the leader was clear. Javier Arenas was used as the number one cornerback and as the main punt returner (remind you of anyone?). Arenas finished the season third on the team in tackles and intercepted five passes with nine pass breakups. He has an interception in the SEC Championship game against Florida and had two in the final game against Texas. He finished his career 159 tackles, seven interceptions and 19 pass breakups.
Cyrus Jones fits the mold of being this year’s Javier Arenas. When the Crimson Tide have a top cornerback who is making big plays, their defense can win them a national championship. The past two seasons, the secondary struggled with consistency and played a major role in Alabama’s losses. This year, Jones is surrounded by top talent and will be looked to lead the young guys.
The comparison to Arenas may not be fair to Jones but their roles are at least similar, if not the exact same. To match Arenas’ career stats, Jones would need 78 tackles, two interceptions and just one more pass deflection. Of course, many fans would like to see less tackles and more interceptions. However, many teams will be picking on the other defensive backs on the field so this could still be seen as a productive season for Jones. If Jones sees the same improvement from year three to year four that he saw from year two to year three, he may become one of the best cornerbacks in the nation.
The former wide receiver had a lot of weaknesses in his game at the beginning of last season and teams recognized it. Jones fixed most of it and finished the year with one more interception and eight more pass deflections – not to mention a lot less pass interference flags – from the year before.
As for punt returning, Alabama fans saw how Arenas could change the game with the ball in his hands and much of the same is expected from Jones. Last season, Jones had four punt returns and averaged 20.2 yards. To expect that over a large number of returns would be insane but the ability is there and consistent punt returns would help the Crimson Tide offense be more productive.
With Jones being a senior, he will already be looked at as a leader both on and off the field. It will be his ability to produce on the field that could lead Alabama to another national championship.
Caleb Turrentine is a contributor at Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter, @CalebTurrentine.