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Alabama Spring Football 2017: Previewing the Pass Catchers

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The Tide lost a ton of production in the offseason, but there is talent on hand.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Alabama Practice
Replacing ArDarius won’t be easy, but there are plenty of great candidates.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Following a rather disappointing season from a passing standpoint, Alabama will have to replace 2016’s leading receiver, ArDarius Stewart, along with another starter in Gehrig Dieter and first-round TE prospect O.J. Howard. For most programs, this would be a daunting task. As usual, however, Alabama will look to reload by fielding a competition between several top-flight athletes.

Wide Receivers

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama has, again, one of the most talented receiving corps in the country after adding a stellar class to what was already a deep group. Unfortunately this may also be a position in flux, as some attrition is likely and perhaps even necessary with two more blue chips set to join the team in the summer. New WR Coach Mike Locksley will be tasked with sorting it all out.

The Main Man

Calvin Ridley

No player on the roster was more affected by the Tide’s inconsistent passing attack last season than Ridley. A budding superstar who went for 1,045 yards as a true freshman on a national title squad, Ridley saw his production reduced by 30 percent as a sophomore and never really seemed to find the rhythm with Jalen Hurts that Stewart had. At 6’1” with superior hands and agility plus speed to burn, he is a virtual lock to go in the first round when he inevitably declares for the draft after the season. If the Tide return to the playoff for a fourth consecutive season, Ridley is likely to be a huge part of it.

Other Returnees

Robert Foster

Foster will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the spring. He came to Alabama as a five-star recruit out of western PA, ranked #2 at his position behind some guy named Laquon Treadwell. He has routinely been in contention for “fastest man on the team” honors during the spring testing sessions, posting some sub-4.4 times in the 40 yard dash at 6’2”. Unfortunately for Robert, injuries have derailed his promising career to date. He said candidly in January that he has considered taking advantage of the grad transfer option, but if he can finally stay healthy would form a potentially devastating veteran combination with Ridley.

Cam Sims

A huge target at 6’5” and 210 pounds, Sims was a heralded four-star from Monroe, LA, home of Cam Robinson and Hootie Jones, who would have been a likely candidate for increased time last year if not for the transfer of Gehrig Dieter. He has been a key backup for three seasons and enters his senior year looking to make a greater impact in a similar role to the one Dieter played: devastating edge blocker, possession receiver and red zone threat.

Derek Kief

Similarly sized to Sims, Kief arrived in the class of 2014 but took a redshirt year, leaving him with two seasons of eligibility headed into 2017. He is one of those guys who has quietly impressed, particularly gaining a reputation for excellent hands, but to date hasn’t been able to carve out a significant role. He has worked hard to add 20 pounds of muscle to his wiry 6’5” frame during his stay in Tuscaloosa, putting him at 204.

Trevon Diggs

Diggs is one of the most versatile and explosive athletes on the team who managed to get significant playing time as a true freshman. He has practiced at both WR and safety, and may well end up as something of a Swiss Army knife player who plays some in the slot and on defense while also returning punts. One thing is for certain: Diggs is going to make an impact somewhere.

T.J. Simmons

A three-star out of Pinson, AL, Simmons is a guy often mentioned by the outgoing draft class as a young player to watch. A solid 6’2” and 202 pounds, he burned his redshirt on special teams last season and is known for his work ethic and physical style of play.

Xavian Marks

Xavian is one of those little waterbug types that everyone roots for. He is an ox in the weight room, leading the receivers in spring testing with a 365-lb. bench press, more than double the 174 pounds on his 5’8” frame. He also had this year’s fastest 40 time at 4.41 seconds. Marks has the potential to be a returner in the mold of former LSU great Trindon Holliday if he can get more confident fielding the ball. Considering the talent on the roster it’s difficult to imagine much of a role on offense for him, however.

Incoming Freshmen

Jerry Jeudy

Jeudy is close with fellow former five-star Ridley, who came from the same high school and is a virtual clone in terms of build. His athleticism and hands simply jump off the page. It isn’t a stretch to say that Jeudy’s development this spring will be a key variable in Foster’s future with the team.

Tyrell Shavers

Shavers, from Lewisville, TX, committed to Alabama very early and never wavered. He is a physical freak at 6’6” and blazing speed - he ran a wind-aided 4.38 40 at the opening - who also throws a high-80s mph fastball on the pitching mound and covers a ton of ground in the outfield. In fact, he was a shoo-in to be drafted in June had he not enrolled in college and reportedly wants to play baseball at Alabama too. Paired with Jeudy, they should be a nightmare for opposing secondaries in the future.

Tight Ends

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Much has been made of Lane Kiffin’s perceived underutilization of this group, and new OC Brian Daboll’s background coaching the position has plenty of folks excited about the prospect of seeing big targets roaming the middle of the field. Coach Daboll will have a bevy of options at his disposal.

Returnees

Miller Forristall

The departure of O.J. Howard signaled the start of Miller time in Tuscaloosa. Forristall enrolled early and showed up the recruiting services who had him rated as a three-star by earning immediate playing time last season as the primary blocking TE. He should get more opportunities to catch the ball this season.

Hale Hentges

Hentges tends to be something of a forgotten man at the position, but the incoming junior and former four-star is a pretty well-rounded player. He has the best size of the group at 6’5” and over 250 pounds and as a recruit was rated higher than any of the other players at the position. It will be interesting to see how he develops with increased opportunity this season.

Irv Smith

Smith took a redshirt last season and apparently spent most of it with Scott Cochran, as he turned heads in spring testing by posting a 4.59 40 to go with a 425 bench press at 6’4” and 243 pounds. That combination of size and speed makes him a serious threat to earn some action in the passing game.

Incoming Freshman

Major Tennison

Tennison is a heralded 4-star recruit out of Bullard, TX with prototypical size and speed at the position. He benched 425 at spring testing and ran a 4.72 40. He should certainly push for playing time, but there is obviously a crowded field of veterans in front of him.

One to Watch

Cam Stewart

Stewart is a fun story. First off, the young man is massive at 6’8” and 254 pounds. He is also a 22-year-old incoming sophomore who never played a down of varsity football at Valley Christian High in Newport Beach, CA. Stewart came to Alabama as an under-the-radar walk-on last season after trying his hand at baseball in the Padres organization. Needless to say, he could be a whale of a goal line target if he can figure it all out.