by Dave Miller
April 10, 02012
Alabama's defensive rise under head coach Nick Saban is consistently praised — and with good reason.
But because the Crimson Tide have grown accustomed to stout defenses, many of their best defenders are talented enough to leave for the NFL after their junior seasons. Thus, replenishing top producers in the starting lineup is always a cause for concern.
But in Tuscaloosa, reloading and not rebuilding is the name of the game.
Case in point: the starting cornerbacks in 2012.
Deion Belue is making an impression in spring drills at Alabama.
The Crimson Tide have to replace 75 percent of their starting defensive backfield from their BCS national championship team, including NFL-bound star cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie. So with spring practice being used to evaluate potential starters, Deion Belue has used these offseason drills to make quite an impact on Saban and the defensive staff.
The Northeastern Mississippi Community College transfer, who two years ago failed to qualify at Alabama, has impressed so much that he arguably is slotted into one of those open starting spots.
In Alabama's first scrimmage of the spring, he intercepted an AJ McCarron pass near the goal line and ran it back 97 yards for a touchdown.
"He certainly has matured in terms of his junior college experience," Saban said of Belue. "He has done a nice job of developing this spring. He's a really good man-to-man cover guy. At times, he gets a little bit unsure of himself in terms of what he's supposed to do.
"I think he's definitely going to be a player that contributes and has the potential to be a starter on our team next year."
The rise of Belue, who could also return punts, is huge for a unit that led the nation in most pass defense categories in 2011. Senior Robert Lester will be the anchor of the defensive backfield at one of the safety spots, with sophomores Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri competing for the other safety spot. But there's room on the depth chart for junior-college transfer Travell Dixon and Dee Milliner to move up, claim spots in the rotation and put more pressure on Belue for a starting job at corner.
No matter who starts the season opener, however, opponents won't feel sorry for a team that is making a habit out of churning out top NFL prospects.
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