The cornerback position has been one of the major areas of focus for the Crimson Tide throughout spring, and as sophomore Eddie Jackson goes down, the focus becomes more acute. ESPN reported that Jackson has torn his ACL, and although there are some experienced older players, Jackson's injury really makes eyes shift to the youth at the corner spot.
Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones are the veterans at the position. Both players were a part of the revolving door at the spot a season ago, opposite Deion Belue. Although returning starters is a metric used by many college football fans to forecast success, experience does not always translate to positives.
That's especially true in the case of two players who, despite their best efforts, could not win the position or play up to the expected standard.
Now, with Jackson out, Alabama is torn between hoping Sylve and Jones (two juniors) improve beyond serviceable and looking to the inexperienced talent. Sophomore Maurice Smith has some in-game experience, and his 2013 classmate, redshirt freshman Jonathan Cook, will both be fighting for time. Tony Brown, the 5-star early enrollee, per 247Sports, is also going to have to push into Jackson's vacancy.
Smith, Cook and Brown are the unknowns. A group of young players who are currently tasked with supplanting Sylve and Jones in an effort to elevate Alabama's cornerback position. Beating out the older players is step one, but the more important step is returning the position to the lofty standards set by Dee Milliner and Dre Kirkpatrick-type athletes.
Brown, a phenomenal track athlete, injured himself over the weekend running track, and the coaches have to monitor the situation, according to Nick Saban through al.com. For Brown, who may be the most talented of the group currently on campus, being healthy to compete for time is paramount.
In Tuscaloosa, the clock is ticking on spring ball. The final scrimmage is scheduled for April 19, putting the Tide on the back half of spring with less than two weeks for players to try to win positions. This Alabama defense is predicated on each position doing its job. If the cornerback spot is a revolving door as it was in 2013, the entire defense becomes vulnerable.
The pressure is on the youth to perform in order to help solidify the defense. Smith, Cook and Brown will see increased reps as Jackson starts the healing process. Another young player with high hopes will arrive over the summer in Marlon Humphrey, another 5-star corner, according to 247Sports.
Humphrey is the more polished of the two highly touted cornerbacks, and given the need at the position, he is expected to challenge for time. With Jackson down and both cornerback spots up for grabs, Humphrey showing up ready to play would be a blessing for the Crimson Tide.
Experience does not always mean success, and for Alabama's defense, improving at corner likely means opting to go with youth over the players with more field time. Jackson going down means Smith, Cook, Brown and eventually Humphrey all will have to press for game reps.