March 5, 2008

BOL Spring Countdown: Cornerbacks

BOL Spring Countdown position battles: 10. Noseguards; 9. Punter; 8. Cornerback; 7. Thursday; 6. Friday; 5. Saturday; 4. Sunday; 3. Monday, March 10; 2. Tuesday, March 11; 1. Wednesday, March 12. is priming its subscribers for Alabama's 2008 spring practice with a daily countdown of coverage. Each day, BOL will break down one of 10 hot position battles, a key veteran, and a rising redshirt in ascending order of importance. The countdown will culminate the day before practice begins with the most critical in each category. Today, BOL Spring Countdown continues with the competition at cornerback.

Battle #8
The position coach:
Kirby Smart, second year at Alabama.

The frontrunner: Lionel Mitchell.
Class: Senior.
Size: 6-2, 185 pounds.
2007 season: Mitchell made seven starts, highlighted by an interception against Georgia, but became progressively less of a factor in the lineup as the season wore on. Only an injury to Javier Arenas got Mitchell back on the field at the end of the season.

The challenger: Marquis Johnson.
Class: Junior.
Size: 5-11, 180 pounds.
2007 season: Last year was largely a forgettable one for Johnson, who didn't take advantage of a mid-season chance to start, then missed the season's stretch run while serving a four-game suspension in what became known as 'TextbookGate'.

Other contenders: Javier Arenas (5-8, 175), junior; Tremayne Coger (5-11, 175), sophomore; Chris Lett (6-2, 190), redshirt freshman.
2007 recap: While one cornerback position was nailed down early by phenom freshman Kareem Jackson, the other was unsettled as Nick Saban tried to keep senior Simeon Castille at the nickelback spot. Mitchell fell out of favor with the staff in mid-year.
Spring prospectus: As noted above, Jackson has one cornerback spot on lockdown. The other is up for grabs. Mitchell and Johnson are essentially interchangeable as frontrunner and challenger - both have good reason to forget their 2007 seasons - but we'll mark Mitchell as an early favorite given his experience edge. This battle is one of the toughest to call ahead of time: If it were a game in itself, Vegas oddsmakers would probably call it a pick 'em. Elsewhere, Arenas could factor either here or at safety. He was switched to safety in mid-season last year, but is more suited physically to the corner and a switch back would surprise noone. He would have to be considered the frontrunner for the nickelback spot as well. As an upcoming third-year sophomore, Coger needs to make some sort of depth chart move. Lett is waiting on medical clearance for a diabetes condition that may keep him sidelined this spring.
Checking the rear-view mirror: Assuming Burton Scott begins his career on offense, as Saban hinted on signing day, UA will welcome two corners to camp this fall: Alonzo Lawrence and Robby Green. Lawrence has some qualifying work to do but is widely regarded as an exceptional prospect.

Key veteran #8
Bobby Greenwood

Position: Defensive end.
Class: Senior.
Size: 6-5, 260 pounds.
The skinny: An early-season starter in 2007, Greenwood turned his ankle against Florida State and found his playing time split with Brandon Deaderick upon his return to action. He finished the year with 20 tackles, 4.5 TFLs and one sack. He is at his best as a run-stopper.
Travis Reier's take: Figuring out exactly where this classic "tweener" fits best has always been the question when looking at Greenwood. He's not a dynamic pass rusher from the end spot (something this defense desperately needs) and he's not big enough to hang in against centers and guards at defensive tackle. Given the Tide's limited numbers at end (at least until the incoming freshmen arrive), Greenwood will likely spend all of his time on the outside this spring.
Rising redshirt #8
Alfred McCullough

Position: Noseguard. rating as a prospect:
Size: 6-2, 315 pounds.
The skinny: McCullough got some brief playing time against Western Carolina last year. He made a fumble recovery and an assisted tackle in that game, but did not see the field again to preserve redshirt status. McCullough's primary competition this spring is fellow freshman noseguard Josh Chapman for the No.3 spot on the depth chart. Brian Motley's No.2 spot will be safe at least until then.
Tim Watts' take: A year in a college weight program couldn't have hurt the former Athens star. Also, he's a year into making the switch from end to tackle.

BOL Spring Countdown links
Position battle #10:
Noseguards (also featured - Justin Woodall, Chris Lett)
Position battle #9: Punter (also featured - Lorenzo Washington, Tarence Farmer)
Position battle #8: Cornerback (also featured - Bobby Greenwood, Alfred McCullough)
Position battle #7: Thursday
Position battle #6: Friday
Position battle #5: Saturday
Position battle #4: Sunday
Position battle #3: Monday, March 10
Position battle #2: Tuesday, March 11
Position battle #1: Wednesday, March 12

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