TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- After Alabama's defensive backfield struggled during the 2013 season, the Crimson Tide entered the offseason with cornerback as one of the biggest questions marks surrounding the team.
Help appeared to be on the way in the Tide's 2014 recruiting class in the form of five-star cornerbacks Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey.
Now, even before they've played in a college game, they appear ready to contribute in at least a small roll. During the media's viewing period of practice, Brown and Humphrey have worked with the second-team defense. Juniors Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones are running with the first group. Both Brown and Humphrey benefitted from the extra reps they received with sophomore Eddie Jackson sidelined with a knee injury.Brown, a January enrollee, had the benefit of going through spring practice along with the Tide's offseason "Fourth Quarter" training program. Listed at 6-foot, 198 pounds, Brown is more physically advanced than most freshmen.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said Brown will be a "good special teams player" and added that he would contribute at cornerback this season.
Saban works with the cornerbacks during individual position drills.
"He's still a guy who needs to progress, not get frustrated by what he doesn't know, and be able to focus on -- you know -- knowledge and confidence," Saban said.
As for Humphrey, he arrived this summer with the majority of the 2014 signees. But that hasn't stopped the 6-foot-1, 186 pound standout from making a splash.
"He's a real good competitor," Sylve said. "He's trying to get it, and I feel like he can contribute to the team."
Tide receiver Chris Black, who faces the two every day in practice, has seen the strides each has made.
"Tony's definitely improved. You can't really tell he's a freshman," Black said. "You can't tell he just stepped on campus. Marlon as well. He's got really great speed. Both of those guys can run."
Saban cautioned anyone expecting Brown and Humphrey to be stars early on. For example, former Tide cornerback Dee Milliner was a highly rated prospect who took some lumps as a true freshman. Milliner eventually developed into a first-round NFL draft pick following his junior season.
Eight more days until Coach Saban begins his eighth season as head coach of the Crimson Tide. #RollTide #CFAKickoff pic.twitter.com/Nslcq6VuHH— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) August 22, 2014
"I think every freshman sort of learns that they have a lot to learn about how to play," Saban said. "You know in some cases they have to learn how to play with the other people that they play with, to communicate, make adjustments, depend on other people, you know, help them, so they can do the right things. You play a team defense in which everybody's got to do their job."
Saban said Brown and Humphrey would both be good players as they continue to learn and progress in the system. For now, they are offering a lot of good competition for the veterans.
"It's hard to be confident if you don't have knowledge, an understanding of what you're supposed to do and how you're supposed to do it," Saban said. "It always scares me when a guy doesn't know what to do but he's really confident. I'm saying that's like not very smart, I don't think. But it takes a while for these guys to get it.
"Then they start playing fast. But Tony Brown is going to be a really good player and so is Marlon."
• College football tickets