Nick Saban’s biggest spring concern may not be at quarterback. That’s why he hired Lane Kiffin; besides, Alabama’s likely starting quarterback doesn’t hit campus until this summer in FSU transfer Jacob Coker.
Saban’s biggest focus is the secondary, particularly at cornerback.
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Defensive backs coach Greg Brown was demoted this offseason, and Kirby Smart was named his position coach replacement, in addition to being the defensive coordinator. Brown later left Alabama for Louisville. So, the Alabama defensive brain trust of Saban and Smart are coaching the defensive backs, and they know the secondary wasn’t up to standard last season, especially the cornerbacks.
“I thought last year, we didn’t play with enough consistency back there,” Saban said after Monday’s practice. “We had a lot of different rotating parts, different starters. Different corners starting. So we’ve got to come up with some guys who can develop some consistency and performance.”
Safeties HaHa Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Suneri are taking their game to the NFL, and corner Deion Belue graduated. That leaves safety Landon Collins, who’s a potential All-American, as the only real solidified starter.
Returners Cyrus Jones, Jarrick Williams, Bradley Sylve, Eddie Jackson and Maurice Smith, among others, aren’t Dre Kirkpatrick or Dee Milliner. Saban never felt good about his corners last season. They’re all four- and five-star players, and they all can cover. But they’re lacking innate ball skills like Kirkpatrick and Milliner.
“We’ve got some guys coming back that can be really good players,” Saban said. “But their leadership, their confidence and their ability to watch the quarterback and make adjustments in the secondary and develop the kind of chemistry back there that people have confidence in is going to be critical.”
The two key secondary players for Alabama this spring are early enrollee corner Tony Brown and do-it-all Geno Smith. Brown was the second best high school corner in the country, according to 247Sports, and he’s competing for a starting job this spring. Geno Smith should step in at HaHa Clinton-Dix’s safety spot. Smith, who was arrested prior to the start of 2013, never really got going last year, and that’s concerning for a secondary who needed a spark last season.
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