Tide Cornerbacks Face Pressure

Good football coaches put a lot of emphasis on the kicking game. Special teams is more than the specialists, of course, but that's part of it. When Gene Stallings was Alabama football coach during the 1990s, he spent time each day taking a close look at the Crimson Tide placekickers. A VERY close look.

Stallings would stand about a foot from where the the ball was to be placed down, looking straight down at the kicker's foot as leather met leather.

On a day when Alabama was having practice placekicking troubles, one of the young kickers provided an explanation. "Coach," he said to Stallings, "it makes me nervous to have you watching."

Stallings said, "Son, I hate to break this to you, but I plan to be at all the games."

Consider that 15 or 20 minutes of so each practice for the kickers to what faces Alabama cornerback today. Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban is also Alabama Cornerbacks Coach Nick Saban, and he works his players as hard as he works himself.

The Crimson Tide cornerbacks history under Saban has been that it takes the players a few years to learn the system, but when they do they are outstanding. They are also recognized by the NFL.

Last year, Dee Milliner – a one-year starter at cornerback – was a first round draft pick. The year before, Milliner's predecessor, Dre Kirkpatrick, was a first round draft pick and his fellow starting corner in 2011, DeQuan Menzie, was a fifth round selection. In 2010, Kareem Jackson was a first round pick and Javier Arenas a second round selection.

Last season was one that most Alabama followers would consider poor by normal Bama cornerback standards. Deion Belue, who had come in as a junior college transfer in 2012, started 11 games, but was injured part of the season. He had an interception against Tennessee and a blocked field goal attempt against Arkansas, but otherwise managed 20 tackles (six in the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma) and broke up three passes.

John Fulton started the first two games at cornerback opposite Belue. In the third game, Belue didn't start because of an injury and Fulton went to a back-up role for the rest of the season. The starting corners in that third week were freshman Eddie Jackson – who would start three games in a row – and Bradley Sylve. Jackson didn't start again after games against Colorado State, Arkansas, and Georgia State until the Sugar Bowl, while Sylve had two more starts, against Kentucky and Arkansas.

Belue started every game thereon except for Chattanooga, when freshman Maurice Smith got the nod. Cyrus Jones entered the starting lineup in the eighth game of the year against Tennessee and started the remainder of Bama regular season games beford going to a back-up role in the Sugar Bowl.

Belue and Fulton were seniors.

Now the 2014 season is looking a lot like the 2013 season with a rebuilding job to do at cornerback. The situation could be impacted in a negative way by safety HaHa Clinton-Dix leaving early for the pros and Vinnie Sunseri and Nick Perry coming back from injury. (There is also the rumor that Sunseri may be entering the NFL draft.)

Anthony Averett and Jonathan Cook were outstanding prospects when they signed with Alabama a year ago, and both are listed as defensive backs. They were redshirted last season, but could be cornerbacks.

The lack of depth at safety means that potential cornerback prospects who have been playing safety – Jarrick Williams and Geno Smith – will likely stay at safety.

On the plus side, one outstanding newcomer is already in the fold. Tony Brown, ranked the number one prospect in the nation out of Beaumont, Texas, has already enrolled at Bama. The Tide is considered the leader for another five-star cornerback in Marlon Humprhey of Hoover, son of Alabama legendary running back Bobby Humphrey.

The job of sorting out the cornerbacks (and safeties, and Stars and Moneys) begins with spring practice, expected to start about March 20 and conclude with the A-Day Game on April 19. Bama opens the 2014 season on Aug. 30 against West Virginia in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

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