Among Alabama followers there is much concern, or at least curiosity, about the quarterback situation, and lost in that is detailed discussion about other positions.
In recent years there has been some dissatisfaction with the play of the secondary. Although pass defense is about more than cornerbacks and safeties – the defensive front and linebackers have responsibilities, too – it is those defensive backs who are noticed when a pass is completed against Alabama.
The good news for the Tide is that it appears there is very intense competition at both the safety positions, where six men are battling for the two spots, and at cornerback, where the lone returning starter, Cyrus Jones, has five others trying to win one of the two jobs.
Senior Geno Matias-Smith – who has been considered a starter for much of the past two years when he was merely Geno Smith – appears to be the leader for at least one of the safety spots. His actual starting position through most of last season and part of 2013 was at Star, Bama’s nomenclature for what many would call Nickel.
That qualifies for starter status because the Crimson Tide is much more likely to be in a defensive scheme that calls for five defensive backs than any other. Although Matias-Smith was originally a cornerback, he made the transition to safety through the Star position, and one of the safety candidates is likely to be a Star this season.
Alabama uses two safeties, a strongside man (usually on the side where the offense has a tight end) and a free or weak. In spring practice and fall camp the safeties play left and right so they learn the assignments of both strong and free, but with the start of preparation for the season-opening game, coaches will assign strongside and weakside men.
One of the safeties most talked about is junior Maurice Smith, and his versatility seems to make him the most likely performer at Star.
Though it’s something of a guess, possibilities are Matias-Smith and sophomore Hootie Jones at safety with junior Eddie Jackson (a starting cornerback last year), true freshman Ronnie Harrison, and senior Jabriel Washington at strong safety.
Senior Cyrus Jones is almost certain to hold down a starting cornerback spot for the third consecutive year. After a shaky conversion from wide receiver, he has become an all-star candidate.
A very good 4x100 relay team could come from the cornerback candidates. Player chatter is that the three fastest players are Marlon Humphrey, Tony Brown (both accomplished track men), and Bradley Sylve.
The position also includes a true freshman who has been mentioned by both Nick Saban and Tide players as being most impressive. Minkah Fitzpatrick came to Bama with great credentials and apparently has not disappointed.
Mel Tucker, most recently defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears, was added to the Tide coaching staff this year and reports are that he has made improvements in the secondary.
Alabama had Sunday and Monday off from football practice after a Saturday scrimmage. The Crimson Tide returns to the practice field Tuesday. Bama opens the season in a week and a half on Sept. 5 against Wisconsin at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.