Shifting SecondaryBy Nolan Imsande | 04/15/2015 10:37pm
After a season in which Alabama’s secondary struggled mightily, coach Nick Saban made a big change to the coaching staff to address the issue. Saban hired Mel Tucker to be the new secondary coach.
Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who previously coached the secondary, will now coach the inside linebackers in addition to his duties as coordinator.
Tucker served as the Chicago Bears defensive coordinator for the last two seasons but was replaced in January. He got his start as a graduate assistant under Saban at Michigan State and later coached the defensive backs for Saban at LSU in 2000.
“[Mel] knows the system. He knows a lot of the adjustments,” Saban said of Tucker in March. “I think he’s done a really, really good job with the players and I think the players have responded very well to him.”
Alabama will have to replace two mainstays in the secondary, safeties Nick Perry and Landon Collins. Perry registered two interceptions in the team’s final three regular season games, while Collins was an All-American and one of the best defensive players in college football.
One possibility the Crimson Tide experimented with recently to shore up the safety position was moving junior Eddie Jackson from cornerback to safety. Jackson played in nine games last year at corner but struggled at times including in the Iron Bowl when he was beat on multiple long balls and eventually replaced by Tony Brown and Bradley Sylve.
“I think, in the long run, we want to get our best players on the field in the secondary,” Saban said. “What happens with Eddie, is not just about Eddie, it is how do the other corners develop. The experiment was to see how he would adapt to playing safety and he has done that well.”
Saban went on to say it gives the team the option to play Jackson at corner or safety in the future, but a decision to move him permanently to safety would not yet be made.
If Jackson stays at safety, he will have to vie for playing time with junior Maurice Smith and senior Geno Smith, among others. Geno Smith transitioned from corner to safety in 2013 and was a co-starter at safety last year but was suspended temporarily this spring after his second DUI arrest.
“We test him every day. So if he continues to do the right things, he can continue to perform,” Saban said. “Geno has not been a problem on the field, in terms of his performance. So we’re encouraged to have him back and hopefully he’ll improve and make good choices and decisions about what he does.”
One newcomer who could contribute to the secondary this year is freshman Ronnie Harrison. He is a four-star safety who also played quarterback in high school.
“Ronnie (Harrison) is a very bright guy,” Saban said. “For a guy that is a new freshman in the system, he has done extremely well. He does have a lot of athletic ability and great size and speed. He really has done a nice job.
Brown and Sylve will likely both receive playing time at the cornerback spot opposite of starter Cyrus Jones. Jones will likely miss all of spring practice with a hip injury, but should regain the starting job once he returns. He tied the team high with three interceptions last season.
Marlon Humphrey and Anthony Averett are other players who could see time at corner this season.