Alabama opens spring practice in two days as the Crimson Tide is scheduled to take the field on Friday.
Alabama’s spring A-Day game, the 15th and final practice, is scheduled for April 16 at 2 p.m.
But before then, we’ll break down each position group. Our series continues with a look at the defensive backs.
Departed: Cyrus Jones, Bradley Sylve, Geno Matias-Smith and Jabriel Washington
Ready for spring: Eddie Jackson, senior; Marlon Humphrey, sophomore; Minkah Fitzpatrick, sophomore; Ronnie Harrison, sophomore; Tony Brown, junior; Laurence “Hootie” Jones, junior; Maurice Smith, senior; Anthony Averett, junior; Shawn Burgess-Becker, freshman; Kendall Sheffield, freshman; Deionte Thompson, freshman.
Coming in the summer/fall: Shyheim Carter, Nigel Knott, Jared Mayden and Aaron Robinson
Outlook: Alabama lost two starters from its defensive backfield from last season. Cyrus Jones was essentially a three-year starter who won’t be easily replaced. Geno Matias-Smith was an experienced veteran who helped the young players develop. Bradley Sylve and Jabriel Washington were key reserves who also played big roles on special teams.
All four will be missed on the back end of the Tide’s defense.
But the returning starters, talent in waiting and incoming freshman should make the transition a little smoother for the Tide.
Getting Eddie Jackson back for his senior season was just as big as any returning player. In his first year as a safety, Jackson finished tied for first in the SEC with six interceptions, including two he returned for touchdowns. Jackson also had a game-changing interception in the national championship game. He’s a playmaker on the backend who can cover, and isn’t afraid to be physical against the run.
Based on last season, it wouldn’t be a stretch to expect Ronnie Harrison to slide into Matias-Smith’s spot. Harrison played like a starter when he can into the games. He served as the Tide’s sixth defensive back. Like Jackson, Harrison too made a key play in the national championship game, breaking up a perfectly thrown ball that would have resulted in a touchdown had he not been there.
Look for Jackson and Harrison to start at the safety spots, but the Tide will need someone to step up beyond them to provide depth. Laurence “Hootie” Jones, Tony Brown, Shawn Burgess-Becker and Maurice Smith are all options. It’s unclear what Alabama is doing with Deionte Thompson. Thompson split time last season at wide receiver and defensive back.
Brown and Smith are both converted cornerbacks, who could also see time at the star, or fifth defensive back, position.
At cornerback, Marlon Humphrey returns to the spot where he started all 15 games. Humphrey intercepted three passes last season.
Opposite him, it’s more complicated. There’s obviously Minkah Fitzpatrick who had a breakout freshman campaign at the star position. Fitzpatrick could slide out to the other cornerback spot in the Tide’s base defense, and move back to star when the Tide goes to its nickel and dime packages. He showed last year that he’s mature and smart enough to handle a big role.
But the Tide has options at cornerback including Anthony Averett and Kendall Sheffield, who redshirted last season. Sheffield received a ton of praise from older teammates for his work on scout team. The former five-star freshman could see a path similar to Humphrey, who redshirted his first year before starting every game in his second year on campus. Averett is a veteran who has game experience so he shouldn’t be counted out. Tony Brown and Maurice Smith could also see reps at corner along with their duties at star/safety.
Alabama signed four defensive backs this recruiting cycle — Shyheim Carter, Nigel Knott, Jared Mayden and Aaron Robinson. Carter, Knott and Mayden were all four-star prospects so it wouldn’t be a surprise if one of them contributed early on.
Contact Anniston Star Sports Writer Marq Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @Marq_Burnett.