ArDarius Stewart was one of the players I was most looking forward to seeing entering the 2015 season. His versatility in limited snaps in 2014 was tantalizing. But Robert Foster started to establish himself as the #1. His injury opened it up for Stewart, but he disappeared during the middle of the season as Calvin Ridley staked his claim as the #1 wide receiver. Still, Stewart showed up down the stretch and put together an impressive 700 yard season.
He looked to be the #2 receiver behind Ridley again this year. However, despite missing a couple games due to injury and a benching for violating team rules, Stewart leads the team in receiving yards and touchdowns; and he has been a valuable safety blanket for Jalen Hurts. In his last two games alone, he has 18 receptions for 283 yards and 4 touchdowns. 10 of those receptions came in the Iron Bowl in a clutch performance.
3rd and 4: Alabama started with the ball and is already facing an important third down near midfield. Hurts has an empty backfield, and Stewart is in the slot to the right. The weakside linebacker shifts over to Stewart while the nickelback takes a few steps inside, showing blitz. He does blitz, which leaves a 7 yard cushion on Stewart. He runs a quick slant; and the linebacker, fearing a deep route, is still four yards off. Hurts reads it and goes right to Stewart. The pass is a tiny bit high, but it hits Stewart right in the hands and bounces past him. Not the most auspicious start for ArDarius.
2nd and 10: Stewart quickly moves on, though. He’s the sole wideout to the right here. Calvin Ridley is wide left. O.J. Howard is to Cam Robinson’s left, and Miller Forristall is the H-back to Howard’s left. Stewart motions and takes the toss from Hurts. DE Byron Cowart is left unblocked while Howard and Forristall move up. Ridley locks his man up outside, and the tight ends block their men. Stewart easily sprints past Cowart, sees the hole opening, and cuts upfield, dashing in between Howard and Forristall for a pick up of 19 yards.
2nd and 11: The offense goes back to 11 personnel out of the pistol here. Ridley is wide left. Trevon Diggs is wide right, and Stewart is inside him in the slot. Ridley motions left to right, and Hurts fakes to Joshua Jacobs. Both actions freeze the linebacker for a second; and by the time he turns to run, Stewart is already steaming past him. One of the deep safeties comes up after seeing Ridley’s motion, and Stewart flies by him as well. The other safety ranges over to help the outside corner with Diggs on a fly route, leaving Stewart’s corner route wide open. Stewart catches it at the 30 and is untouched until he reaches the 20 when Carlton Davis foolishly tries to stop him with a shoulder check. Stewart stays on his feet and spins forward for another 4 yards.
1st and 10: Hurts is in the gun with two in the backfield. Gehrig Dieter is on Hurts’s right hip, and Damien Harris is on his left. Stewart is wide right. Dieter motions behind Hurts to the left and draws one of the safeties down on that side of the field. Hurts looks to his reads downfield but doesn’t find anything, so he checks down to Harris on the swing route. Before Hurts even throws it, Stewart is transitioning from running his route to setting up a block. He even points in Harris’s direction. Stewart goes low, cutting Carlton Davis’s legs out from under him, getting the crucial block for Harris to score. The Assassins are all about blocking for their teammates, and this a great example of it.
1st and 10: The offense is in a bit of an unusual formation. Dieter is wide right, and Howard is next to him in the slot while Ridley is wide left. Harris is to Hurts’s right, but Stewart is to the left and a yard behind Hurts. He goes in motion, swinging around to the right; and Hurts turns and throws it back to him. Alabama has run similar plays, and it sucks both corners and one of the linebackers in. Dieter stays in to block one of the corners, but Howard runs downfield. Stewart catches it and takes a few steps while transferring the ball to his right hand. Stewart, a quarterback in high school, plants and throws with two defenders in his face, and it’s right on the money to Howard on a curl route just past the chains. Safety Stephen Roberts wasn’t fooled, though, and is right there to make the tackle.
4th and 4: Alabama brings two tight ends (Howard and Forristall), who are both lined up on the left side. Hurts sends Harris in motion wide left. Stewart is wide right, and Ridley’s in the slot. It’s just a simple smash concept. Ridley goes deep on a corner route while Stewart starts on an in route just past the line to gain. The corner opposite him is an off coverage, so he’s able to make his cut inside unobstructed. After two steps, however, he cuts and turns back on an out route. He sold it well, the corner bit, and Stewart now has valuable separation. The single high safety reads Ridley’s corner and beelines to cover it. Hurts sees that read taken away and looks down to the open Stewart. He rifles in a perfectly placed ball on the run. Stewart catches and turns in a small amount of space, running past the corner and tightroping down the sideline. There are only two defenders left between him and the endzone. Ridley’s blocking one. Stewart fakes lefts before going right, and that’s all he needs to freeze the defender. Ridley’s man is able to get off the block; but it’s too little, too late.