TUSCALOOSA, Ala. _ When University of Alabama coach Nick Saban recently started listing defensive players who had been doing well in practices, most of the names were predictable: Landon Collins, D.J. Pettway, Trey DePriest, Reggie Ragland …

But the first player he mentioned was junior cornerback Cyrus Jones, who he said “Is really having a good camp.”

So much for the notion by some that the returning players at cornerback were essentially filling in until prize prospects Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey were ready to take over. As the Crimson Tide prepares to close training camp this week Jones and junior Bradley Sylve are still working with the first unit and showing signs of relinquishing their spots.

“My mentality is to be that competitive guy who’s going to compete everyday against the best,” said Sylve, who added about his teammate: “Cyrus Jones’ looking real good.”

Similar to what’s been going on at quarterback, where senior Blake Sims is trying to hold off a challenge from Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, the competition at cornerback has featured veterans working ahead of younger players who are essentially considered physically ideal for the position.

Jones is listed as 5 foot 10, 194 pounds, while Sylve, maybe the fastest player on the roster, is 5-11, 180, and has been drinking muscle milk to try and gain weight. At one point last year he emerged as the starter opposite Deion Belue, only to have his season derailed by a problematic high ankle sprain

He sustained the injury against Arkansas on Oct. 19 and then struggled to get back on the practice field. Sylve wasn’t able to contribute as a reserve until a month later against Chattanooga on Nov. 23, and he didn’t get into the game against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

“It was real frustrating because I really wanted to be out there to help my team,” he said. “I just couldn’t get back on the field fast enough.”

Sylve’s final numbers were eight games played with three starts, 10 tackles and two passes broken up.

“Bradley’s done a really good job in camp,” said Saban, who doubles as the Crimson Tide’s cornerback position coach. “He’s a guy who’s made steady improvement. Never really played a lot of defensive back in high school, didn’t play corner. A very conscientious guy who has really developed nicely.”

Jones was a converted wide receiver as well and made the switch last year when the Crimson Tide had little depth at the corners. He played in 11 games, with five starts, and tallied 19 tackles, seven passes broken up, two interceptions and a sack.

They would have been competing with Eddie Jackson for the starting roles this fall, only the sophomore sustained a knee injury that required surgery in the spring. His comeback has been impressive, as Jackson has practiced every day with the aid of a brace, but coaches are trying to be careful not to bring him back too soon.

“That’s going to be a real key for us in the secondary this year, that we can stay healthy, we can keep some guys healthy so that it will give us a chance to develop some of the younger players,” Saban said. “Maybe some of the injured guys like Eddie can get back to full-speed at some point in time.”

Nevertheless, even if someone does get hurt, Alabama is in a much better position than a year ago because most of the defensive backs know more than one position in the secondary, especially when you factor in the nickel and dime packages that require one or two extra defensive backs. The exceptions are the newcomers, as Humphrey has been trailing Sylve on the left side during practice, with Brown following Jones on the right.

But it’s just another example about how there’s no substitute for experience and the maturity that comes from being a little older.

“Really just focusing on what I have to do in order for me to be a better player,” Sylve said. “I felt like the last couple of years I wasn’t focused, I wasn’t really focusing on what I had to do. But this year I’m trying to get better.”