Veteran cornerbacks respond to challenge

Though nothing is set in stone, the Tide starters at the majority of the defensive slots are obvious--at least for now. At every position but middle linebacker, either returning starters or sometime starters are the clear leaders. But cornerback is different. <br><br>"At this point we're not really positive who our first-string guy is going to be," said Cornerbacks Coach Chris Thurmond. "And that's a good thing."

If you backed him into a corner, Thurmond might grudgingly list seniors Gerald Dixon and Hirchel Bolden No. 1. But that designation would be based on seniority and their experience as starters last season as much as anything else.

Junior Roberto McBride will contend at both nickel back and corner.

Heading into fall two-a-days, the competition at both cornerback positions is wide open. "That's a real good thing," Thurmond said. "What you want is everybody to come in hungry. You want everybody coming in thinking ‘If I work hard, I've got a chance to play.'

"That's what we've got right now."

In addition to Dixon and Bolden, junior-college transfer David Scott is expected to contend for playing time right off the bat. Junior nickel back Roberto McBride is definitely in the mix. Former walk-on Corey Ferguson, who was awarded a scholarship last year, had a very good spring.

And Tide fans are anxiously waiting to see just how good redshirt freshmen Anthony Madison and Charlie Peprah really are.

"I'm not trying to be vague," Thurmond asserted. "I'm being dead honest when I say that all those kids have a chance to play. It'll be a fight this fall to see which ones come out of there."

Many (including this writer) had predicted that the redshirt freshmen had a better than even chance to win the starting jobs outright during spring practice. And indeed both Madison and Peprah took as many snaps with the first unit as anyone else. But interestingly, the older Tide cornerbacks responded to the challenge and were much improved during spring drills.

Forced to play last season with a cumbersome brace to protect a separated shoulder, Hirchel Bolden should be completely healthy in 2002, following surgery.

Thurmond commented, "With our older kids, I don't know whether it was a maturity thing that they just evolved to where they were ready to play better--or whether it was the competition, but our older kids did step up.

"It was probably a combination."

As any football coach will attest, there is nothing like genuine competition to light a fire under an athlete. "The younger kids brought a tremendous source of energy," Thurmond acknowledged. "And the older ones saw that. But it wasn't just all the younger kids either fueling the fire. It was everybody.

"Anytime you've got competition, then it elevates everybody's performance."

Nobody is getting excited until the practice improvement translates onto the field on Saturdays. But in contrast to what has happened in the recent past, at this point the Tide coaches have plenty of options at cornerback.

"We're going to have six or seven guys that are going to compete and battle to play," Thurmond said. "That's what you want, and you hope you have that every year."

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