Alabama Coach Nick Saban had a brief comment Monday regarding the return of players who had been suspended: “Tony Brown and Johnny Dwight are eligible to play in this game. They've done all those things that they needed to do, so their suspensions are over and very happy to have them back.”
The focus is on the return of Brown, an upcoming junior who was suspended prior to the College Football Playoff Semifinal Game in the Cotton Bowl and missed that game, the national championship game against Clemson, and the first four games of this season. Although no reason was given for the suspension, it was strongly inferred that it was an NCAA issue.
Dwight, a third-year sophomore, saw limited action at tight end, but is expected to move to the defensive line as a backup upon his return this week.
Brown played in 26 games in his first two seasons, including getting two starts. The 6-0, 194-pound speedster (he earned All-America as a member of the Alabama track and field team and was the nation’s number one hurdler in his senior year in high school) is expected to be on special teams and to add depth in the secondary, where he has played both cornerback and nickel.
Last year he was in on 16 tackles (including 4 in punt coverage, 4 in kickoff coverage) with one tackle for loss, broke up two passes, and caused a fumble.
Brown’s football ability is not in question.
Saban said, “Tony’s got to work on – and I told him this – developing trust in his teammates and the coaches. He certainly has the ability to play.
“He’s been a special teams player for us. I think that’s the first thing you’ll see, and then we’ll work him back into the positions that he’s played the most – corner and Star (Bama’s term for nickel) – and see if he can contribute in any way to make us stronger.
“I know it’s going to add a little depth at an area where we don’t have a lot of depth. That will definitely be helpful. But I also think it will create some competition with some of the other players that may be helpful as well.”
Brown has been working with the team as a member of the scout squad and could be dressed for Saturday’s homecoming game against Kentucky (6 p.m. CDT) in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Brown’s teammates have no doubt about his ability to help the team this year.
Wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who has been matched up against Brown in practice, said, “He’s going to help us a lot, defense and special teams. One thing I know is he’s a great special teams player and he’s gives his all for the team. He’s a team player.
“ I know he's hungry right now. Like really hungry. He's going to come out and compete.”
On the scout team, Ridley said, Brown “goes hard every play. He knew he wasn’t going to play the last few games, but he still went hard. That helped him to get better. He’s preparing himself to come out this week and play hard.”
Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Tide’s starting nickel back and also a cornerback, said Brown “was upset that he couldn’t be out there with us, he couldn’t travel with us. The last couple of weeks he’s been working really hard. He’s been staying focused, and he’s really boosting up the team’s energy. That’s what he does all the time, and we know we are going to be really happy to have him out there and add some depth to the secondary.”
Asked if Brown is one of the best athletes on the team, Fitzpatrick said, “You already know the answer to that. He’s one of the best. He ran track in high school and he runs now, and he’s one of the fastest out there. He’s a great athlete.”
Specifically, Fitzpatrick said, “On special teams, he flies down the field and hits people and makes plays. In the secondary, he’s going to add a whole lot of depth.”
Fitzpatrick added that Brown “was real excited” on being reinstated, and added, “Everybody was happy that he was coming back because he brings a whole lot of energy to the team.”
Linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said, “His mindset hasn’t changed at practice. He’s someone who always comes to practice. Always has the juice. Tony is a maniac.
“Tony Brown, he hits like a linebacker. Expect to see some big hits out of him this weekend.”