Dre Kirkpatrick is one of Alabama’s most impressive cover corners, and has made a strong statement this year on defense for the Tide. Playing opposite Kirkpatrick is senior cornerback DeQuan Menzie, a JUCO transfer last season. Menzie had a great season after battling through multiple injuries last year. With senior safety Mark Barron moving on to the NFL and junior Robert Lester’s intentions being unknown at this point, the Tide defensive backfield stands to lose up to four starters to graduation and/or the NFL draft.
Menzie, Barron, Kirkpatrick and Lester have come together to lead the nation in passing defense in 2011, and losing any combination of those guys will certainly be painful. Barron and Menzie are seniors and both play their final game for Alabama next month in New Orleans. Kirkpatrick has been targeted as a first round lock in the upcoming draft and staying for one more year is highly unlikely. Robert Lester may be the only one of the three to return for his senior year. A depleted secondary is what Alabama suffered through in 2010 and it was critical in the losses Alabama suffered.
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Restocking the Tide defensive backfield is of utmost importance in the 2012 recruiting class. Alabama is in good shape with several top cornerback prospects and should have no problem closing strong in this class. There is one player in this class who has already locked down his spot and verbally committed to the Tide.
St. Pius X cornerback Geno Smith is one of the very best prospects in the country, and one of the Tide’s more vocal prospects. Smith chose to attend Alabama after a long recruiting process that saw the Tide battle it out with rival Auburn for Smith’s services.
Smith is regarded as a lockdown corner by many scouts, but he caught the attention of both Alabama and Auburn fan bases with his social media antics during his recruitment. Geno was one of the toughest prospects to read during the recruiting process, and he had both fan bases thinking they were in favor of getting the elite defender. One week he would post pictures of himself with Auburn recruiter Trooper Taylor, and the next he would be tweeting “Roll Tide” while donning a Bama jersey. With all the pressure recruits are under from fans, family members, friends and coaches, it can be a tough process. Geno turned the tables on all that pressure, had fun with his recruitment and made the process fun.
Strengths. There just aren’t any glaring weaknesses in Smith’s overall game; he is a very solid prospect who plays the position as it was meant to be played. He measures just shy of 6-feet tall and weighs about 175 pounds, and has reported times in the forty-yard dash of 4.55 to 4.60. Smith has excellent game speed, excels in man coverage and plays the ball very well. He has elite closing speed and displays good breaking ability, and is a ball hawk.
Geno isn’t as thick as some corners, but he tackles with very good form and does not shy away from contact: he will come up to the line and take on running backs without hesitation. Geno plays heads up and recognizes routes, reads receivers and quarterbacks with the best of them. When the ball is in the air he thinks it is his. Off the field, Smith is an excellent student and has all the qualities Coach Saban covets in a player. He isn’t a liability in the classroom and is by all accounts a fine young man who has already become a fan favorite to those who follow recruiting.
Weaknesses. The only apparent weaknesses he has may be his size; he’ll benefit greatly from Coach Cochran’s strength program. He will deliver a hit but he has to bet bigger to be more physical at the next level.
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Just a week before Smith pulled the trigger for the Tide, Chris Black announced his decision to join Alabama’s 2012 class and sent shock waves through the state of Florida.
Black is a five-star receiver, and many analysts have him rated the number two receiver in the entire class. He comes to us from First Coast High in Jacksonville, Fl, a long-time producer of DI players and a target school for FSU.
Black faced enormous pressure from many directions to stay in-state and attend FSU, but he had his sights set on Tuscaloosa as his college destination. Chris was considered a virtual lock to wind up at FSU by many media outlets all the way up until he made his decision public. Black was the second five-star to commit to Alabama from the state of Florida in the 2012 class, joining Eddie Williams of Panama City Beach, Florida.
Even though Black is a five star receiver, he will have to answer many critics who say he will struggle in the SEC due to his 5-foot 10-inch, 170 pound frame. However his sub 4.40 speed and playmaking ability will serve him well. He is the go-to guy on his team and is a very explosive player who is able to find the soft spot in the zone and make defenses pay. Getting the ball in his hands in space will create an advantage due to his instincts.
Black is looked at as a slot-type receiver, but has ability to stretch the defense and get deep quickly. Don’t be surprised to see him fielding kicks come A-Day as he is a dangerous return man and will likely have a shot to showcase those talents.
Despite not being a taller receiver, he plays the ball extremely well and is able to go up and get it in tight coverage. Playing for a perennial powerhouse program in Florida will benefit him when he gets to Tuscaloosa; he is used to winning and playing in big games.
With all the athletic ability he displays his strongest quality maybe his hands. It is rare to find a player who has all the tools to be an elite receiver at the college level and this young man certainly fits the description.
Much like Geno Smith, the biggest obstacle he will need to overcome is the physical nature of playing in the SEC. Black will have to use his elusiveness to keep physical defenders from getting hands on him and cutting him off. He will get a jump start on his college career by enrolling early this January, which will play to his favor when Spring camp rolls around. Having the extra time in the weight room and around the team is always beneficial and usually helps to make a move for early playing time.
Alabama certainly has an elite weapon in Black, and the receiving core may undergo a full overhaul next Spring. Black and fellow Floridian receiver Amari Cooper will both enroll early and push for playing time. Current Alabama receivers Marquis Maze, Brandon Gibson and Darius Hanks will all be playing their final game for the Tide in a few weeks, opening up the door for someone to step up. Rumors are flying and assumptions are being made surrounding the futures of Tide receivers Michael Bowman and Ronald Carswell, who have been on suspension and may be looking for new homes. Carswell took the Twitter route in announcing that he would be looking for another school and by all accounts that seems to be the case.
With the Tide losing key players at the cornerback position, Geno Smith has an excellent opportunity to play as a true freshman, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him on the field next season.
The receiver position looks to be as wide open as it has ever been going into 2012. Three receivers graduating, Bradley Sylve asking to be moved to cornerback, and two more receivers on the cusp of transferring due to discipline problems gives Black and Cooper a one-way ticket into the receiver rotation next year. Enrolling early will only make it harder to keep these two elite players off the field as true freshmen.
Next year will certainly be one of rebuilding and developing great prospects for Alabama and there looks to be just enough experienced players to keep the Tide in contention once again. This recruiting class is shaping up to be one of the best in the history of Alabama and tops in the nation. I can’t remember a year with more impact players coming in with the chance to play early and it’s going to be fun to watch this team take the field