Alabama Players Who Must Step Up While Geno Smith Is Suspended

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistAugust 21, 2013

Dec 1, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Chris Conley (31 cannot catch a pass against Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Geno Smith (24) during the second quarter of the 2012 SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome.  Mandatory Credit: Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Saban finally levied a suspension on cornerback Geno Smith Tuesday, forcing his potential nickelback to miss just one game, the season opener against Virginia Tech.

Smith was arrested for a DUI on August 14, according to Andrew Gribble of Per Gribble's piece from Tuesday:

Alabama sophomore cornerback Geno Smith, who was arrested early Sunday for driving under the influence, has been suspended for the season opener against Virginia Tech, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said after Tuesday's practice.

Smith also has some other things to take care of "in house," before he can return to the field, Saban said.

It's a relative slap on the wrist from Saban and Co.—especially because, as B/R's Barrett Sallee points out, DUI arrests are treated the same as failed drug tests in Alabama's student handbook. Every coach is different, but many might have opted for stricter recourse.

Is it a coincidence that Alabama's second game is a hotly contested rematch of last year's Texas A&M upset? Maybe and maybe not. But now that's neither here nor there.

Smith will miss the opener and just the opener, forcing someone else to play the "Star" role he was running with Alabama's first-team defense in nickel formations. According to Cliff Kirkpatrick of The Montgomery Advertiser, junior Jarrick Williams has stepped in and played that position during practices.

Senior John Fulton was already slated to play a big role outside, and without Smith, that role becomes even bigger. He should draw the start in Week 1. Sophomore Bradley Sylve was also in the mix to start opposite Deion Belue and could now see even more snaps against Virginia Tech.

Fortunately for the Tide, Virginia Tech is hardly a passing powerhouse. The Hokies averaged just 231 yards per game and seven yards per attempt last season, and they lost their top-three leading receivers from that squad. No returning player caught more than 20 passes in 2012, so even without Smith, Alabama should have enough bodies to shut them down.

Still, though Smith will be eligible to play against Texas A&M, missing the first game might force him out of peak form. As Sallee writes (between the arrest and suspension):

If the charges stick, it'd be hard to imagine a scenario in which Smith doesn't miss at least one game. That means he'll either be stuck at home or rusty when the Tide visits College Station, and that creates a matchup problem against the underrated Aggies wide-receiving corps.

If that's the case, and Smith isn't able to ramp up from 15 to 60 in College Station, some of 'Bama's younger cornerbacks might become vital contributors. Chief among them is Cyrus Jones, a true sophomore and former 4-star recruit, who could be called upon to help shut down the Aggies' deep receiving corps. He started his career as a wide receiver but has made an impressively quick transition to defense.

But that's all down the road. For now, against just Virginia Tech, Smith's absence shouldn't throw too big of a wrench into what Alabama does. His contributions will be counted on all season, but players like Williams, Sylve and Jones are capable of shutting down every pass-catcher the Hokies have.

The one-game suspension is a bullet dodged for Alabama.