TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- With Alabama's defensive front seven being labeled as a strength by coach Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide's secondary is still a bit of a question mark.
Cyrus Jones, who started all 14 games at cornerback last season, has missed all of spring practice while he recovers from his January hip surgery. Eddie Jackson, who started 11 games at cornerback last year, has been moved to safety. Geno Smith, who started six games a season ago, missed a week following his arrest for driving under the influence.
And behind that trio is a group filled with players who have played sparingly throughout their careers or have no experience at all. But that may not be a bad thing at this point.
"I'm just seeing a lot of guys just going out there and competing, taking advantage of the reps and just trying to get out there and get better," Jones said. "They're taking coaching well, and I just think when I get back out there, it's just going to be that much more fun, just being a part of it and not having to sit on the side and watch."
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With Jones out, Tony Brown, Bradley Sylve, Marlon Humphrey and Anthony Averett have all been fighting for extra reps at cornerback. At last check, Brown and Sylve were working with the first-team defense.
At safety, Geno Smith has worked his way back into the rotation since returning from his suspension. Smith and Jackson were the two safeties with the first-team defense at last check. Laurence "Hootie" Jones, Jabriel Washington, January enrollee Ronnie Harrison and Jonathan Cook are all competing for a spot at safety with Maurice Smith working the star position.
The Tide must replace Landon Collins, Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams from last year's group. Last year's defense was 59th against the pass, allowing 226.0 yards per game and 6.4 yards per attempt.
"I think anytime a season doesn't end like you want it to, it always gives you that extra motivation going into that next time you get on the field," Jones said. "You don't want to have that feeling again, so you prepare yourself that much more. When it comes time and we're in a position as we were last year, that we're even more ready since we're going to go through the same kind of things."
Tide running back Derrick Henry has noticed an improvement from the group. Henry said the entire unit is "playing hard" and "doing a great job" this spring. He also singled out a young player who is standing out.
"You can tell those guys are hungry, even the young guys," Henry said. "Ronnie Harrison has been doing a great job, he looks really good. A guy who's an early enrollee and has been playing really well, like he's been here before."
Harrison, a former four-star prospect, could be one of the X-factors for the Tide's secondary. He's been getting some first-team reps throughout the spring, and doesn't appear to be overwhelmed by the jump from high school to college. Now it's just a matter of learning the system. Along with Henry, multiple Tide players who have spoken with reporters this spring have mentioned Harrison as player who is standing out.
"He's shown a lot of instinctiveness out there on the field," Jones said of Harrison. "He's still getting it mentally, and that's going to take time, but he's definitely a natural football player, so he's one of the guys who has impressed me a lot."
-- Contact Anniston Star Sports Writer Marq Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.