After surrendering the most passing yards of the Nick Saban era in 2014, the 2015 Alabama defense will have to tighten up its issues in the secondary to help earn a return trip to the College Football Playoff.
On a team loaded with talent, sophomore cornerback Tony Brown may be the key player in improving the secondary and bringing another national title to Tuscaloosa.
Last season, Cyrus Jones was able to lock down one of the starting cornerback positions in the Tide’s defense while the other cornerback spot seemed to have a revolving door.
Brown, Bradley Sylve and Eddie Jackson all got chances at cornerback, and all three had more than their share of struggles, as the Crimson Tide gave up 3,164 passing yards in 14 games.
After being named Second Team All-SEC, Jones will return to his starting spot at corner, and Brown came out of spring practice as the favorite to start on the opposite side after getting the nod in the A-Day game in Jones’ absence.
#Bama CBs Tony Brown and Bradley Sylve both starting on A-Day for the fist team defense. Eddie Jackson will see work at corner and safety.
— Stephen M. Smith (@ESPN_Future) April 16, 2015
In 2015, Brown could be crucial to the success of the Alabama defense.
The secondary may not have been the Tide’s only Achilles’ heel in 2014, but it was a glaring weakness, especially down the stretch, as Alabama gave up an average of 328 passing yards in its final three games.
Jones is obviously expected to continue to play at a high level, and if Brown can learn from a year of experience and live up to his 5-star potential, according to 247Sports, it could result in huge strides being made for the Crimson Tide secondary.
Two lockdown corners complementing a pass rush that should give quarterbacks nightmares could mean the return of the championship-level defense Alabama fans are used to seeing from the Tide.
After the Tide’s second spring scrimmage, head coach Nick Saban said some positive things about Brown’s play, per 247Sports’ Charlie Potter.
“Tony Brown has done a good job, still needs to work on his consistency, doing things the right way all the time, but he’s had a really good spring.”
As an NCAA track and field All-American in the 4×100 meter relay, Brown has elite speed at the cornerback position.
That speed is especially essential in Alabama’s secondary, which struggled defending deep balls last season. Alabama fans are sure to remember Sammie Coates running past Alabama cornerbacks in last year’s Iron Bowl victory.
Jason Getz, USA Today Sports
Brown celebrates the 2014 SEC Championship win with teammate Maurice Smith.
At 6’0″, 195 pounds, he has the size to come down and provide run support as well, a key responsibility of any cornerback in a Saban defense.
As 247Sports’ No. 2-rated cornerback in the country out of high school, there have never been any questions surrounding Brown’s ability. But this season, he’ll have to show the maturity to be a reliable option in the secondary.
Brown is easily the most talented option Alabama has to complement Cyrus Jones. Now is the time for Brown to step into the starring role that has awaited him since his arrival in Tuscaloosa.
With strong play from Tony Brown, an improved Alabama secondary could help propel the Crimson Tide to another College Football Playoff and give them a chance to reclaim college football’s crown.
All statistics via cfbstats.com.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Sami Harb on Twitter @SamiPHarb.