TUSCALOOSA, Ala. _ When it comes to Saturday’s season opener it’s pretty obvious where the University of Alabama defense will be tested the most, the secondary.

Even though with absence of Trey DePriest, who will be serving a one-game suspension for an undisclosed NCAA violation, Alabama will have two first-time starters at the interior linebacker spots, the players behind them have are an even bigger question mark, especially the cornerbacks.

It was the position where Alabama had the most problems last season, and while many of the names are the same with Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve expected to start the Crimson Tide believes that everything else is different.

“They’re a lot more comfortable in what they’re doing,” senior safety Nick Perry said. “I feel like they have a better understanding of the playbook, and when you have a better understanding you can obviously play faster and kind of use your instincts more on the field.

“It’s kind of hard to use your instincts when you really don’t know exactly where you need to be or how you’re supposed to do it. Those guys are a different level than last year.”

When Alabama was preparing to open the 2013 season against Virginia Tech, cornerback Deion Belue was dealing with a toe injury that was so severe that after trying to play through it he’s now about to spend the entire fall on the injured reserve with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Week 2, Texas A&M exposed the other starter, John Fulton, along with many of the reserves.

Jones ended up starting five games and Sylve three before being sidelined by a high ankle sprain. What a lot of fans forget, though, was that both started their Crimson Tide careers as wide receivers.

“We really recruited both guys to play corner,” Coach Nick Saban said. “The way we’ve always done it with players is if a player has a desire to try to play something, we always allow them to play that. In their case, both guys had a tremendous amount of success in high school playing offense. If I was a high school coach and I had fast guys like that, I would try to give them the ball, too.

“It’s taken a year for those guys to develop, I think, as defensive players, to gain the knowledge and confidence that we talked about before to be able to play effectively. Those guys have both had really good camps.”

However, an even bigger difference if found with the reserves, where prize recruits Tony Brown and Marlin Humphrey worked with the second unit throughout camp. Factor in sophomore Eddie Jackson, who despite coming off knee surgery in the spring will make the trip to the Georgia Dome, and sophomore Maurice Smith and Saban feels much more comfortable about the position group as a while.

“Maurice is a physical guy,” said Perry, who will likely start at free safety next to junior Landon Collins. “When he first got here I thought he was going to play safety. He plays multiple roles on our team too.

“He hits like a safety, covers like a corner. That’s a great combination to have.”

Smith will likely back up star Jarrick Williams at star, the extra defensive back in nickel formation when Alabama pulls the strongside linebacker, and Geno Smith could help make up the dime package (six defensive backs) when necessary.

Considering the Mountaineers have a senior trio of wide receivers — Kevin White and Mario Alford with sophomore Daikiel Shorts – who combined for 107 catches for 1,554 receiving yards and nine touchdowns last season, and that West Virginia often brings in a fourth wide receiver in its spread attack, Saban figures that to be in nickel at least 70 or 80 percent of the time.

So with Belue and safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri no longer on the Crimson Tide it’s sink-or-swim time for their replacements.