Thursday, May 9, 2013
Spring evaluation: Secondary
By Alex Scarborough
Editor's note: TideNation will use this week to look at the four major positions on the football field and how their outlook has changed post-spring practice. Today we examine the secondary:
Geno Smith came on like a bullet last season, and it appears his momentum won't slow down anytime soon. The former four-star prospect earned playing time late last season as a freshman, and he should be in line for a starting job this fall. He had a strong showing during spring practice, aided by the absence of senior John Fulton who was sidelined with a turf toe injury. Smith will start alongside Deion Belue, who was picked on for much of this past season -- his first at Alabama.
Five tackles and an interception in the A-Day game means up-and-comer Landon Collins (26) will see significant playing time in the fall.
The situation at safety is much murkier, though, as four players will vie for two spots. The one sure thing is Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, who should start every game after progressing nicely last season. He'll be joined by a rotation of Nick Perry, Vinnie Sunseri and Landon Collins. All three will play at safety, Star (in the nickel package) and Money (in the dime package).
Collins is the most intriguing player in the secondary, hands down. The former five-star prospect and No. 1 safety in the 2012 class played sparingly as a freshman, but there's reason to believe after a strong A-Day -- he led his team with five tackles and recorded an interception -- that he's ready to contribute in a larger capacity this season. He's a heavy hitter in the mold of a Mark Barron: well built at 6 feet and 215 pounds with sub-4.4 speed. He could be a year off, but when the light bulb does come on, watch out.
Keep an eye on freshman walk-on Jai Miller as well. His story is interesting and his upside is tremendous. He already has an NFL body and the maturity to play at the next level. Whether his athleticism translates to significant reps is anyone's guess, though. He spent the spring getting his footing, but the fall will be the real test of whether the former professional baseball player is capable of excelling in a much different in arena.
Most likely to make an impact: If you're looking for this year's Geno Smith, you won't have to look much farther down the roster to find him. Maurice Smith, the No. 12 cornerback in the ESPN 150, has big-time talent and knows big-time football, having played his high school ball in Texas. With the Tide's lack of depth at the position, there will be opportunity for him to play early. But it won't be easy. Saban, who coaches the secondary himself, will have to see more than raw talent for Maurice to get on the field. Maurice will have to grasp what is a complex defense and add a few more pounds before he merits serious consideration.
Also arriving: Anthony Averett (No. 22 ATH), Jonathan Cook (No. 73 CB), Eddie Jackson (No. 54 WR)
The secondary is used to hearing how it's going to be the weak link. And while A-Day did a lot to quiet the usual critics, this year will be no different. With shutdown corner Dee Milliner gone and three-year starter Robert Lester out the door as well, there's a lack of experience at the position. Belue took a big step forward this spring, but the fact remains that there's little depth at the cornerback position and not much in the way of seasoning at safety.
Instead, talent and versatility will be the hallmark of this group. Get used to seeing Suneri, Perry, Collins and Clinton-Dix all over the field as Saban mixes and matches in nickel and dime formations to cover up a lack of depth at cornerback. If Cyrus Jones can successfully make the transition from receiver to cornerback, it would be a big relief. He practiced a bit with the first team in nickel this spring and could be an option if he can show enough consistency. Ideally, Jones will step up, Fulton will return healthy and a fifth cornerback will emerge from the crop of incoming freshmen. But that's a lot of "what ifs" to consider.