TUSCALOOSA — Lost in all the chatter about Alabama’s secondary struggles from last season was the fact that the Crimson Tide relied heavily on two former wide receivers at cornerback.
Redshirt junior Bradley Sylve and junior Cyrus Jones made multiple starts at cornerback after making the transition from receiver. Both were forced into action because of injuries and poor performances from older teammates at their position.
The duo returns as Alabama’s top two cornerbacks on the depth chart the Tide released this week.
“It’s taken a year for those guys to develop, I think, as defensive players, to gain the knowledge and confidence that we talked about before to be able to play effectively,” Saban said. “Those guys have both had really good camps.”
In Sylve and Jones, Saban said he has seen the growth most players make from year one to year two as a defensive back in his system. Now, Saban is hopeful the two can carry their play over into the games.
After playing safety and wide receiver in high school, Sylve spent his first year with the Crimson Tide at receiver. Sylve said he “wasn’t really feeling wide receiver” and asked Saban if he could make the switch.
Jones played receiver and worked as a return specialist as a true freshman in 2012. Last season was Jones’ first year playing cornerback after making the move in the spring of 2013.
Saban said Alabama “recruited both guys to play corner.” In the past, Saban said he hasn’t been opposed to letting players change positions if they have “a desire to play something.”
A knee injury to sophomore Eddie Jackson during spring practice opened the door for Jones and Sylve to take over at the cornerback spots full-time.
Going into preseason practice, many analysts and fans felt Sylve and Jones would be overtaken by star freshmen Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey. That hasn’t been the case.
During the media’s viewing period of practice, Jones and Sylve have spent each day with the first-team defense with Sylve working on the left and Jones on the right.
Wide receiver Chris Black, who faces both players each day in practice, described Sylve as “more of a speed guy” who uses his speed to mirror receivers during their routes. Black added that “you’ve really got to come out of your breaks with him.”
As for Jones, Black said he’s “more aggressive.” Black said Jones uses his strength to “put his hands on you and jam you.”
Safety Landon Collins said Jones and Sylve’s improvement has been “tremendous.”
“If you watch these guys practice, they’re telling us stuff we don’t know sometimes because it’s coming from a corner’s perspective and we know it from a safety perspective,” Collins said. “Knowing key details and paying attention and making the correct calls helps us out a lot.”
Safety Nick Perry said both are “looking great.”
“They’re a lot more comfortable in what they’re doing,” Perry said. “I feel like they have a better understanding of the playbook, and when you have a better understanding you can obviously play faster and kind of use your instincts more on the field. It’s kind of hard to use your instincts when you really don’t know exactly where you need to be or how you’re supposed to do it. Those guys are a different level than last year.”
Sports Writer Marq Burnett: On Twitter @Marq_Burnett.