At this time a year ago, Alabama junior defensive back Tony Brown was away from the team serving a suspension for a “violation of team rules.”
The suspension continued into the first four games of this season, when it was revealed the suspension was NCAA-related.
Since then, though, Brown seemingly has had a bigger impact in every game since he first returned against Kentucky in October.
When Alabama plays for the national championship for the second straight season Monday against Clemson, Brown will be there this time and play a significant role.
Such was the case in the Crimson Tide’s last game, when the former five-star recruit had five tackles, including 1.5 for a loss and 0.5 sacks, in its 24-7 win over Washington in a College Football Playoff semifinal.
“Tony did a good job in the last game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said this week. “Late in the game, he had a couple of passes that they caught on him but for the most part he did a really good job of matching the patterns and executing and doing his job and covering well.”
For Brown, it’s been a steady progression since his return. In the first four games back, he primarily played as Alabama’s dime back. But after senior safety Eddie Jackson was lost for the season with a fractured leg against Texas A&M on Oct. 22, Brown has since moved into a bigger role at nickelback as others in the secondary have shifted around to compensate for the loss.
After Alabama’s win over the Huskies in the Peach Bowl, Jackson, a permanent captain, spoke passionately about Brown’s play this season, including that game in particular.
“It was wonderful,” Jackson said as confetti fell around him. “Tony is a guy that’s come a long way. You know, he had a couple of things he had to work on and he fixed them and now he’s doing an amazing job and we’re proud of him.”
In 10 games this season, Brown has 25 tackles (2.5 for loss), 0.5 sacks and two interceptions.
Against Clemson, Brown will have a tough matchup against wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. In last season’s title game, Renfrow gave Alabama’s defense fits with seven receptions for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
“(Renfrow) is a tough matchup in the slot,” Saban said. “We had a tough time guarding him last year. Certainly have to do a better job this year. And I think it’ll be more challenging this week because of the balance and skill level this team has.”
This season, Renfrow has 34 receptions for 403 yards and four touchdowns despite missing four games with injury early in the season.
Though talented, Alabama is thin on depth and experience in the secondary this season, which only increases the need for Brown to play well.
After Jackson went down, sophomore Minkah Fitzpatrick moved from cornerback to safety and now starts next to sophomore Ronnie Harrison. Sophomore Marlon Humphrey and junior Anthony Averett have been the Crimson Tide’s two cornerbacks.
(You can follow Kassidy Hill on Twitter @KassidyGHill)
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