Coming into the 2013 season, many (including this observer) speculated that that group of receivers might be the best and deepest the Crimson Tide had ever seen. The great hope was a more explosive passing game that would open the running game up a bit more. While still a successful season statistically, it did not inspire Daniel Moore to create a new painting. A number of circumstances could be blamed for the lack of production (Amari Cooper's nagging injuries, troubles on the offensive line, game hesitancy from a certain coach who now resides in Ann Arbor, "entitlement"). Whatever it was, expectations will be high for new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and wide receivers coach Billy Napier.
One of the first tasks for Kiffin et al will be finding the heir apparent to AJ McCarron. Many have concluded that Florida State transfer Jake Coker will be the man. However, there are a host of other candidates who have a chance to show they can be the head signal caller. Whoever it becomes, it is vital that he gets in as many reps with the Crimson Tide receivers as he can. Never discount chemistry.
WHAT BAMA LOST
At the top of the list of what is gone from the Tide receiving corps is fan favorite and Honey Badger nemesis, Kevin Norwood. The D'Iberville, Mississippi native had a stellar senior season racking up 568 yards and 7 touchdowns on 38 catches. Not only did Norwood come up with big catches in big games, he had great heart and was a team leader.
Also gone is big-play deep-threat Kenny Bell. Though he had only 14 catches for 167 yards in 2013, this speed demon kept opposing defenders from cheating up in their coverage.
Obviously, at the top of the list is Amari Cooper. It seems like only yesterday he was a breakout freshman who would go on to break all of Julio Jones' rookie records at Alabama with 59 catches for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns.
His sophomore campaign was slowed by a nagging turf toe and other injuries in which he "only" had 45 catches for 736, which was still good enough to lead the team, but only 4 TDs. He missed the Colorado State game and played sparingly against Georgia State. Cooper finally started to look like his old self late in the season. Ironically, his best and only two 100-yard games were the last two games of the season.
There is an excellent chance that if he stays healthy and has a big year as expected that he could be joining his former high school battery mate Teddy Bridgewater at the next level after this coming season. Expect a big bounce back year from the 6-1, 202-pound Miami, FL native.
Number 2 on the list is #22 Christion Jones. The Adamsville (AL) senior has been a dependable slot receiver from Day One and has developed into a dangerous return man. He had 36 receptions for 349 yards and two receiving TDs in 2013. Jones is a solid possession receiver who can be trusted to move the chains.
DeAndrew White briefly flirted with the idea of declaring for the NFL Draft but wisely decided to return for his senior year at the Capstone. The 6-0, 190-pounder from Houston, Texas had 32 catches for 534 yards and four TDs including the highlight reel one-handed catch against Georgia State.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
In 2012, Nick Saban signed two of the most highly sought after WRs in the nation. One was the aforementioned Amari Cooper. The other, who many recruiting analysts believed was the better of the two, was Chris Black. Black was an early enrollee who wowed Tide fans at the 2012 A-Day when he turned a 20-yard catch into a 44-yard touchdown. However, a fall camp shoulder injury put the brakes on his college debut forcing him to take a redshirt.
Many fans hoped he would be in the mix in 2013 but he could not break into the deep rotation. Some flashes of brilliance against Georgia State proved to be the highlight of his freshman year. Now as a redshirt sophomore, look for him to become the Tide's fourth receiver.
But it is not all Black and White (sorry, I couldn't resist). A few other young challengers will have their chances to prove themselves as well.
Just as in 2012, Saban convinced one of the nation's top 2013 pass catchers to play his college ball at the Capstone. Five-star Robert Foster (6-2/185) is a is long and lean target who impressed many observers with his strength and leaping ability. After a redshirt year and a season toiling under strength coach Scott Cochran, one has to believe he is even stronger.
Also from the Class of 2013, Raheem Falkins from New Orleans benefited from early enrollment which allowed him to get on the field as a true freshman. Although he did not catch a pass last season, he gained good experience on offense and some special teams play. He is a big target and runs good routes.
It is too soon to know upon which side of the ball ArDarius Stewart will land. At the first spring practice on Saturday, he worked out with the safeties but Nick Saban called it a "very experimental" move for now. With Bama's depth at WR and question marks in the defensive backfield, it would seem he may land on defense. But don't discount this redshirt freshman's potential as an offensive weapon. As a high school senior, he ran 188 times for 1,923 yards (10.2 avg.) and 35 touchdowns, completed 57-of-94 passes for 1,034 yards and 11 touchdowns, and added two touchdown receptions for good measure. He accounted for 138 touchdowns during his career (52 as a junior, ranking No. 5 in AHSAA history).
Cam (we're taking it back!) Sims is another big target at 6-4 and 200 pounds. Just as Falkins before him, he has the great advantage of the January enrollment. He is quick with good hands. The only knock might be on his route-running but he has spring and fall camps to hone that skill.
Derek Kief is a 6'4", 199 lbs WR from Cincinnati, Ohio. He will be enrolling this summer. Unless he absolutely blows it up in the fall camp, I expect him to redshirt. But here again, is another long and lean receiver who can go up and get the ball. The future looks bright... and tall!
* Coming up tomorrow, Slice will tackle the quarterback situation.