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Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Question of the week: Cornerback help

By Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough

Editor's note: Each week the TideNation staff will address an issue surrounding the Alabama football program. Today's question: Can a true freshman make an impact at cornerback this season?

Alex Scarborough's take

Alabama needs someone to step up at cornerback this season to complement projected starters Deion Belue and Geno Smith. Rising senior John Fulton hasn't emerged in his many years on campus, Cyrus Jones is still beginning to understand the position after playing wide receiver as a freshman and the only two other reserves, Bradley Sylve and Jabriel Washington, don't appear to be ready for the challenge anytime soon.

That leaves the hopes of a thin secondary to a handful of youngsters who haven't yet enrolled in classes. Maurice Smith, Anthony Averett, Eddie Jackson and Jonathan Cook might not have the burden to start as true freshmen, but their progress won't go unnoticed during fall camp. If just one of the four can become a contributor, it would bring a world of relief to a secondary that will likely have to mix and match safeties at the nickel and dime cornerback positions otherwise.

Eddie Jackson
Eddie Jackson is one of the freshmen who could make an immediate impact in the Alabama secondary.
The question, though, isn't necessarily whether the incoming freshmen are talented enough to play. Their scouting evaluations indicate they have the potential. Rather the question is whether they can handle the pressure of the position in the first place. Because, after all, Nick Saban is nothing if not a coach of cornerbacks. The demanding, often domineering, head coach puts much of his focus on the position that can make or break a defense. And he doesn't let the details slide.

"It basically comes down to doing the little things right," Geno Smith said following the SEC Championship Game, just one of two starts he made as a freshman last season. "… It's a very complex defense. It's an NFL-type defense. The language and everything is NFL-based. Once you practice it, you learn it. Me, myself, I've messed up in the games before."

But not every rookie has Smith's attitude or confidence. The precocious defender had to shrug off Saban's bite as much as he did opposing wide receivers. Asking any other 17- or 18-year-old to grasp an NFL style of defense and stand up to that kind of pressure is difficult, if not impossible.

No, Alabama cannot expect one of the four incoming freshman cornerbacks to play right away. The Tide will be lucky to have one of the bunch contributing by the end of the season. Instead, Alabama will have to make due with a few solid corners and a swath of talented safeties, and hope that all the parts fit.

Greg Ostendorf’s take

Alabama will have plenty of newcomers to choose from at cornerback if needed this fall, but the question will be who is the most mentally prepared and physically equipped to make an early impact for the Tide.

Smith, the only prospect ranked in the ESPN 150, is the highest-profile name enrolling this summer. Both Averett and Jackson spent notable time at other positions during high school and could end up at safety or even on offense. Cook still has some work to do in the classroom before he can enroll, but he hopes to get in before the beginning of fall camp.

Of the four, the most intriguing is Jackson. He missed his entire junior season because of an academic issue, but he made up for it with a tremendous senior campaign that landed him offers from Alabama, Florida State and LSU, among others.

Although Jackson looks and plays more like a wide receiver, Saban wants him as a defensive back, and the Alabama head coach went as far as to say there would be a good opportunity for him to not only play his first year but to possibly start as a freshman. The 6-foot-1, 178-pound prospect looks the part physically, but will he be able to learn the complexities of the defense before the season begins?

The wild card of the group is Cook. He was ranked lower than the others, but he looked like the best player on the field at times during the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. Getting in late will certainly hurt his chances of playing early at Alabama, but he might be the most physical and fundamentally sound of all four. There’s a reason the staff took a chance on him.