TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 22: Kenny Bell #7 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates his touchdown against the Tennessee Volunteers with Marquis Maze #4 at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 22, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
"I think we probably have maybe the best chemistry that we’ve had for a long time between the quarterbacks and receivers." – Nick Saban
The Tide is potentially loaded at a position where highly touted recruits have been stockpiled, but in most cases have yet to justify their hype. Only Julio Jones and Marquis Maze have solidified a role as "go to receiver" in their time at Alabama, and the substantial use of TEs and running backs in the passing game has kept the rotation relatively faceless over the last few seasons. That will have to change in 2012 if the Tide is intent on showcasing AJ McCarron’s arm and generating more explosive plays downfield.
Though the Tide loses both Maze and Darius Hanks, their production last season isn’t exactly irreplaceable. Neither receiver finished in the top 10 in the SEC in yards per game, and though Maze at least finished third in receptions per game with 4.3 rpg, his 48.2 ypg was the least of the bunch. But even with their production being replaceable, their experience isn’t and Alabama will be relying on mostly underclassmen and a couple of mostly untested juniors this season.
Juniors Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell are the veterans of the bunch and the two top returning receivers in yardage with 455 yards between them. Norwood in particular gave Tide fans a glimpse of his potential in the BCS Championship game, leading all receivers with four catches for 78 yards in what was likely a more prominent role than was planned thanks to Maze’s unfortunate exit from the game. His emergence in that game and over the course of spring and fall have him set for a breakout season, with cornerback Dee Milliner praising his continued development:
"I'm seeing great things. As you saw in the championship game, he can be one of those guys that could be a great wide receiver at Alabama. He's just been working in the summer, and coming into fall in camp, he's working and could be one of the guys that stand out at receiver."
Bell is the leading returning receiver with 17 catches, 255 yards and two TDs last season, and has seemingly become McCarron’s favorite target through the spring and fall, leading all receivers with 5 catches for 86 yards and a TD on A Day. Bell will certainly benefit from being one of the top targets through spring and fall, and if the chemisty he’s developed with McCarron continues to translate to Saturday production he has a real chance at being the go to guy for the offense.
Outside of Norwood and Bell, finding another two consistent playmakers at receiver would give the Tide a luxury it hasn’t had in the Nick Saban era. Sophomores DeAndrew White and Christion Jones have both shown plenty of flash as speedy downfield threats but have so far been mired in the logjam of depth behind the veterans. White redshirted in 2010 but played in 11 games last season, with two starts opposite Maze in the place of Darius Hanks to start the 2011 season. As the season wore on, though, White found himself buried on the depth chart and didn’t make a single catch in the last three games of the season. Though he had a two TD performance early against Vanderbilt (including this circus catch in the back of the end zone) his diminished role down the stretch and little to know mention during fall camp means questions regarding his consistency linger.
Jones, on the other hand, saw the field early and often last season as a true freshman, though he only tallied three catches on the year. He currently has the inside track to be the Tide’s return man after replacing Maze against LSU, and he also gives the offense another speedy downfield threat like Maze. With the trust the staff showed in him during the BCS Championship game, look for Jones to be a major part of what many believe will be a more downfield passing attack from Alabama.
Behind those four, the logjam of talent continues. The injury bug bit Alabama early in fall when Chris Black suffered a shoulder injury that will force him to the bench this season. A true freshman that enrolled early and showed potential in the spring with a TD grab on A Day, Black looked to be a contributor before his injury.
Fellow true freshman Amari Cooper was singled out by Nick Saban as a young player that could contribute during SEC Media Days, but he too is currently nursing an injury that has held him out of several practices over the past week. His injury isn’t nearly as severe as Black’s, though. Saban has called him "day to day" and expects he will be ready to play by the time the seasons starts, but as a true freshman that was barely on the radar despite enrolling early every practice rep missed puts him that much further behind.
Rounding out the depth and possible contributors, redshirt freshmen Danny Woodson, Jr. and Marvin Shinn were both four star prospects and top recruits at their position.
Overall Alabama has plenty of options at receiver, with a top four that are as talented and athletic as the Tide has put on the field in quite a while. There’s still no Julio Jones do it all type, though, so finding a rotation that can gel quickly and play with consistency in their roles is the top priority.
|81||Danny Woodson, Jr.||6-1||195||Fr|