An in-depth look at Alabama’s new secondary
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Nick Saban and Alabama released their depth chart for week one on Monday. Everyone’s eyes were on the quarterback spot, where there was no clarity shown. The secondary became clear of who would play where and what new faces would be featured in 2015. The front seven can handle a lot but the secondary will need to see improvement this season if the Crimson Tide wants to be a national champion.
Cyrus Jones comes in as the number on cornerback for the Crimson Tide and could be the team’s biggest difference maker in 2015. The senior will now be the oldest member of the secondary and will be looked at to help lead the younger guys around him. Jones has shown vast improvement since changing from the wide receiver position. He used to be criticized time and time again for not being able to play the ball and was called for way too many pass interference penalties. Last season, Jones finished first in both pass deflections (13) and interceptions (3). If his experience continues to make him better, Alabama may have the one of the best defensive backs in the nation.
The New Safeties
Eddie Jackson and Geno Smith are listed as the starting safeties after both beginning their college careers as cornerbacks. Smith will be entering his senior season, playing in 39 total games for Alabama and starting eight of them. He has yet to intercept a pass but had a career season last year backing up Nick Perry at the free safety position. Smith finished with 54 total tackles, three of them for a loss and one forced fumble. Eddie Jackson burst on to the scene in his freshman year with a big interception in the 25-0 win over Ole Miss. He has seen some limited playing time but has three career interceptions as a cornerback and 8 career pass deflections. These two guys have big shoes to fill in a long list of great Crimson Tide safeties. Both have dealt with a string of discipline or eligibility issues but if they can stay on the field, they can make a huge impact for Kirby Smart’s defense.
The Young Cornerbacks
Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey were both five-star recruits coming out of high school and signed with Alabama as a part of the 2014 class. Both were expected to make contributions to the secondary but neither got to see the field much. Brown appeared in 13 games last season but only had two starts, tallying ten total tackles and a pass deflection. Brown was given the nod over other cornerbacks while the Crimson Tide was trying to find the best fit in their secondary. Humphrey was redshirted last season after being rated as the nation’s number three cornerback prospect in his class. Humphrey enters 2015 with high expectations, listed as the second starting cornerback. Humphrey may have gotten the nod over Brown because of a hip injury that Brown suffered in the spring. Both players are talented and have shown they are very fast (on the Alabama track team, not the football field). Brown is listed in the second spot for both the cornerback and Star position.
The Star Freshman
I know that’s a bad pun but I had to use it. True freshman Minkah Fitzpatrick was listed as a starter at the Star position on the depth chart yesterday. The Star, or nickel back, position is not on the field at all times but still plays an impactful role. Last season, Jarrick Williams was the star for Alabama even with Landon Collins filling the spot sometimes. Fitzpatrick will be expected to do a lot in this role, helping stop the run while also playing some zone coverage against the pass. He will often be seen playing between the linebackers and the defensive backs but can also line up against wide receivers or tight ends when need. The Star position will typically be on the field when the Crimson Tide lines up with the Nickel or Dime defense but we could see Fitzpatrick on the field on most plays. He is also listed with Brown as a backup cornerback.
Caleb Turrentine is a contributor at Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter, @CalebTurrentine.