TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama's secondary is coming off an atypical season when youth, suspensions and injuries collided with a Southeastern Conference loaded with potent passers and receivers.
Now, the Crimson Tide unit that has been a training ground for NFL prospects is bolstered by a familiar position coach and two of the nation's top cornerback recruits.
''I know those were some painful times that we all had to go through,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said. ''But I think that those guys are more confident and I think they can be more consistent this year.
''I think we have the addition of a few young guys that are really talented that are going to be beneficial as well. Last year, we had the most inexperienced group of people in the secondary that we have ever had in terms of playing their position.''
Tony Brown went through spring practice and is contending for a starting job along with Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones, who was adjusting to the transition from receiver last season.
Alabama was still second in the SEC in pass defense and 11th nationally, but the 180.3 yards per game was the most Alabama had allowed since 2008. The cornerback spot opposite Deion Belue, who was bothered by a nagging turf toe injury, was virtually a revolving door of starters.
The cornerbacks also had to face receivers such as first-round draft picks Mike Evans of Texas A&M and LSU's Odell Beckham.
Freshmen Eddie Jackson, who's still recovering from spring knee surgery, and Maurice Smith both started games.
Smart is hoping that trial by fire leads to growth.
''It wasn't a good year to have down corners,'' he said. ''I put them in a lot of tough situations in some games, and they made some plays on them. Those guys have all been through that, they know playing that position and the style of play that Alabama plays that that's going to happen. We have to try and minimize that.
''And we have to minimize that by calls, we have to minimize that by making more plays at other positions. I think those guys understand the challenges, but you know what the great thing is? I think they get to go up against a better group of receivers every day in practice than anybody in the country.''
The Tide lost safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who was suspended for two games, and Vinnie Sunseri, who missed much of the season after a knee injury. They became the eighth and ninth Alabama DBs drafted over the past five years. Clinton-Dix was the fifth taken in the first round.
Safeties Landon Collins, a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist, and Jarrick Williams are back.
Brown got a head start by enrolling in January. If he wins the job before the Aug. 30 game against West Virginia, Brown would be the first freshman cornerback to start an opener for Alabama since Dee Milliner in 2010.
Teammates aren't ruling out that possibility.
''If you prove to (coaches) that you can be trusted, then you're going to get the opportunity you want,'' Collins said. ''Everybody gets the same opportunity when they step on this field and when they come onto this campus.
''He's got that opportunity to prove to the coaches that he can take it, and he's running with it now.''
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