First, I am finally doing that thing where I change my screen name to my actual name (for the sake of my real life family/friends that can never figure out which articles are mine). So, for those of you that haven't made the connection, I am btbama22. Anyway, enough about me. Here's your daily set of links to peruse.
After a dismal year in 2014, the return game was actually a strength for UA in 2015. Cyrus Jones led the country in punt returns for scores, while Kenyan Drake cemented himself in Crimson Tide history with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the national title game. Can the other two live up to that?
"Calvin Ridley and Xavian Marks are the two guys that have probably done it the best," Saban said. "We have 2-3 other guys that are doing it, but those guys have done a pretty good job and did a good job (Saturday). We didn’t have mishandled balls or have any turnovers on special teams. That was a positive."
Erik mentioned yesterday that Xavian Marks was starting to make his mark on the Alabama depth charts. The diminutive speedster is like a Percy Harvin-lite: a blazing fast running back that doesn't have the size to be a true runner, so he gets put at receiver. Not only is Marks making strides as a slot guy, but it looks like he stands a solid chance of being at least one of Alabama's starting return men.
An interesting note, though, is that Calvin Ridley is the other top candidate. While there's no doubt that Ridley has the athletic ability to do it, he is a bit of a frail receiver and is possibly the most important player on the 2016 offense. One has to worry a little about exposing him to a special teams role that will raise his risk of injury.
Ridley is the league's most explosive receiver and he's guaranteed to have a fantastic season with Kiffin calling plays. You know what's not a guarantee? Fournette being as dominant. Why? Oh, maybe because LSU doesn't know what its passing game will look like. You're ready to say quarterback Brandon Harris will take enough pressure off Fournette for him to be as deadly as he was before he ran into Alabama's buzz saw? Remember when Fournette was the Heisman favorite and then forgotten after LSU went totally one-dimensional?
Speaking of Ridley, an ESPN blog recently tried to decide the best offensive player in the SEC. They came down to three candidates: LSU's Leonard Fournette, Ole Miss's Chad Kelly, and our very own Calvin Ridley. The article itself is not all that insightful, but its always fun to get to read national writers that insult LSU.
As Saban said, Foster isn’t 100-percent healthy, although he’s getting close. His scrimmage stats are the proof behind that. But even though he’s been restricted by a black jersey this spring, his head coach still considers him a starter. What about the rest of the receivers, though? Saban discussed the position group after the Tide’s second scrimmage.
"Well, I hope it’s really competitive," Saban said. "I think we have three guys that are ahead of the rest, although I think Cam Sims really had a good spring. He’s healthy. Last year, he struggled a lot coming off the knee and then he had a hamstring. He never really was full speed, but he’s done a really, really good job.
"Derek Kief has made a lot of plays and done a nice job, very crafty. The first three guys are probably a little ahead of those guys."
Even Saban has made it clear that Ridley, Stewart, and Foster are clearly the top three receivers on this team. This is a trio of pass catchers with tremendous potential, especially with Foster returning from injury and Stewart with another year of experience as a receiver.
Behind them, though, is some pretty solid depth. Cam Sims was a highly rated receiver with insane height and length, and Derek Kief is a unique player. He's a natural slot guy, but stands at 6'4". And don't forget that Gehrig Dieter will be joining the Tide this summer too.
"(Bucannon) was that type of player coming out -- you could tell," Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "... We're experiencing the same thing in L.A. right now with having re-signed Mark Barron. Same type of player, same responsibilities -- behind the line of scrimmage, sideline to sideline, matches tight ends, does the same things but an undersized linebacker, an oversized defensive back.
"It appears with the two of them -- and I'm sure there're more; I haven't studied the league per se -- but there will be more of those hybrid guys that are kind of in between."
After a disappointing start to his career at Tampa Bay, Mark Barron was traded for a couple pennies to the Rams, where he fit in as smoothly as a Matthew McConaughey in a chick flick. It only took one season for him to lead the team in tackles, and Barron is helping to pave the way for safety/linebacker hybrid players. This has really caught on in the NFC West, with the Cardinals using Deone Bucannon and the Seahawks with Kam Chancellor also filling similar roles. It will be interesting to see if this sparks contract arguments in the future, such as that of Jimmy Graham, and the TE or WR designation.
If the chip on Derrick Henry's shoulder isn't big enough after spending the pre-draft months hearing that he's likely not a first-round draft pick, how big might it become when he hears his former backup might be? Alabama running back Kenyan Drake, an explosive athlete with return skills, but also a lengthy history of injuries, is a first-round talent according to an NFL evaluator who spoke with MMQB's Peter King.
Now this is interesting. I've always been very high on Drake, and I think he stands a solid shot to be an even better NFL player than Henry. He has a great blend of unnatural speed and acceleration to go along with surprising size and power. He offers value not only as a running back, but as a receiver and return man as well. Just watch this video summing up his career at Alabama, and tell me you don't see ridiculous untapped potential.