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October 24, 2013

Belue important for stretch run

It can be argued that outside of C.J. Mosley, senior cornerback Deion Belue is perhaps one of the University of Alabama's most needed defensive players.

When healthy, the Tuscumbia native has held down the Crimson Tide's top cornerback spot, while the No. 2 spot has been a revolving door through seven games, as John Fulton, Bradley Sylve, Cyrus Jones, Eddie Jackson, and Maurice Smith have taken turns opposite Belue.

But Belue hasn't stayed healthy this season, and his nagging toe injury that was sustained in the Texas A&M game and kept him out against Colorado State along with a hamstring injury may again keep him out of Saturday's rivalry game against Tennessee after he aggravated it against Arkansas.

"Deion's a good player. He's the most experienced corner that we have," UA head coach Nick Saban said. "He struggles to stay healthy or he has struggled to stay healthy this year. We're hopeful he can stay healthy and be out there and play well on Saturdays.

"He's a great competitor. He does a really good job everyday. It's important to him, he works hard and he knows how to prepare for a game. His experience is invaluable to where we are right now in terms of the secondary. We've lost a couple of safeties and we have some young corners. It's really important that he can get out there and finish."

Belue's production is down from a season ago, but his role on the team has only magnified.

In 2012 he recorded 40 tackles, including 6.5 for loss, with two interceptions, seven pass break-ups and nine passes defended. This season he has four tackles, two pass break-ups and two passes defended. Against Arkansas he blocked a field goal.

It's possible, though, that he's been more valuable this season as the veteran corner on a unit full of talented but green athletes.

Sylve sprained his ankle against Arkansas and is at best questionable to play Saturday and Belue was held out of some drills during practice this week.

If both can't go against Tennessee, it's likely Jones and Fulton or Jackson will be called upon.

With the bye week coming next week followed by a key Southeastern Conference Western division game with LSU, getting Belue healthy is a concern.

"As far experienced goes, he's very important," Mosley said. "Even when he's not practicing or not playing, he's helping young guys out. He showing what to do or telling them what to call or make this adjustment. As far as leadership goes and experience goes, he's still there."

Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0229.

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