With Julio Jones now in the NFL, only Darius Hanks and Marquis Maze have significant playing time at wide receiver and finding a third player that can be a reliable and productive part of the rotation is a big key moving forward. Outside of seniors Maze and Hanks the position is frighteningly young and/or lacking in experience, with only fellow senior Brandon Gibson bringing at least a wealth of special teams contributions and familiarity with the system to the table.
Gibson was a four star prospect out of Mobile who signed in Nick Saban's very first recruiting class. Rated by Rivals as the #5 overall player in the state, Gibson had offers from all over the southeast. After redshirting in '07, Gibson got a few token snaps during the '08 season in mop up duty but didn't record a catch in the three games he appeared in. Of course, from '08 on the Tide's passing game was effectively the Julio Jones show, and although Gibson showed potential on the practice field (grabbing 18 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns in three spring scrimmages, including the game winning TD during the 2010 A Day Game), he could never work his way into a meaningful role at his position.
Last season Gibson began contributing on special teams, appearing in 12 games and returning a blocked punt for a touchdown against Georgia State, but as a receiver he's pulled in only six passes for 64 yards over the past two years. With Julio, Hanks, and Maze firmly entrenched atop the wide receiver pecking order and the staff typically preferring to flex out TEs in spread sets getting on the field has been quite a chore for those on the outside looking in. With 2011 as his last year of eligibility, it's unfortunately now or never for Gibson.
During the spring camp, the biggest buzz at wide receiver surrounded DeAndrew White, a 6'0" 181 lb redshirt freshman. White looks to have given the Tide offense another speedy downfield threat, which is nice, but if we're talking about players who need to step in and fill the void left by Julio Jones, what we're talking about consistent and unselfish players with big bodies, good hands, and the ability to contribute in the ground game. At 6'2" 194 lbs and a year under his belt on the return coverage team, Gibson's status as the elder statesman should give him the leg up for a more meaningful role this year. He's a known commodity, he's got good size and hands, and makes me think of Mike McCoy, i.e. not a flashy player but certainly dependable. And that's what we really need with two young quarterbacks fighting for the start, another go to guy that can be counted on to catch the ball and keep the chains moving.