With the departure of seniors Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks and Brandon Gibson, now is time for one of the tall, fleet footed decaplets to step up and claim their right to the Julio throne. Decaplets? No, this is not a tale from Romeo and Juliet. By my count there are ten nearly identical twins running around in the Bama wide receiver drills and none of them seem to be able to separate themselves from the others. Instead of seeing them all race out of the pack in a classic Nascar green flag fashion, they all seem to stay bunched up with the pace car with no separation whatsoever. One week, Kenny Bell makes us think we’ll all be Saved by the Bell and then the next week he vanishes like Elizabeth Berkley’s career. During the BCS championship, we all got more wood from Norwood but, prior to that, he had flashed a few times but he hadn’t really proven himself to be a lead receiver. Even the Duece, DeAndrew White, flashed exceptional playmaking ability in one game but then found himself in fewer huddles than Big Al the next. This season, someone will need to take the reins at wide receiver, otherwise Big Al won’t be the only elephant in the room that we’ll need to be talking about.
The Projected Starters (three WR set)
Kenny Bell – 6’1, 175. Redshirt Junior – 4 Star recruit.
Kenny Bell was a 2009 signee and redshirted as a tiny 160 lb wide receiver. In 2010, he caught just two passes for 26 yards but, in 2011, he hauled in 18 passes for 251 yards and two TDs. The 18 catches actually makes him the leading returning wide receiver for 2012! Yikes! Kenny has tremendous speed and pretty solid hands but he hasn’t really emerged as a #1 receiving option. The gorgeous flea flicker play against AU where Bell torched the Tiger secondary and the 47 yard TD catch during A-Day are two examples that speak (or yell) to Bell’s abilities, so perhaps this year AJ can ring this Bell a few times for a quick six. Bell certainly seemed to stake his claim to the #1 WR position this spring as he caught 5 passes for 86 yards (both highs for WRs) during the A Day game. Bell has been slowed by some leg problems (hammy) during fall camp but, still, I’m telling you there’s a chance here…
Kevin Norwood – 6’2, 193. Junior – 4 Star recruit.
Kevin Norwood was a fellow signee with Kenny Bell in 2009 and, at 180 lbs, he, too, was redshirted that season. The similarities with Bell don’t end there, either. In 2010, Norwood collected 3 catches (Bell caught 2) for 56 yards. In 2011, Norwood snagged 15 catches (Bell caught 18) for 268 yards, all of which seemed to take place in the BCS Championship game. Norwood’s array of highlight catches over the Honey Tadger made LSU’s #7 the caboose on numerous highlight packages. Norwood showed speed, hands and a leaping ability that, though over the little 5’8 honey tadger, was scintillating. He then followed that performance up with a 4 catch, 53 yard day at A-Day – proving that Norwood’s stock is on the climb every bit as much or more so than Bell’s. What’s next for Norwood? The sky is the limit. It appears he only needs the opportunity as he clearly has the skill set to “git ‘er done” and his performance in fall camp seems to indicate that he’ll be the #1 WR this season.
Christion Jones – 5’11, 175. Sophomore – 4 Star recruit.
Christion Jones played as a true freshman last season and really seemed to excel in crunch time. While most recruitniks put Jones on the defensive side of the ball, his skills with the pigskin in his hands were too undeniable for Saban to put him on defense. At the end of the season, Jones became a regular in the rotation at the slot position and, of course, who could forget the tremendous performance in the BCS Championship game when he stepped in as the punt returner when Maze was injured. Jones may not get the hype or the pub of many of the other WRs but he’s as solid as they come. He loves to block, too, which the staff just loves. Honestly, I look for Jones to be a bit of a breakout player this season out of the slot, as he’s a tremendous and unsung football player. He, too, excelled during A Day with 3 catches for 48 yards and a TD and gave a glimpse of what the future may hold. Just remember to say his first name right when he finally gets that name recognition, ok, Verne?
DeAndrew White – 6’0, 181. Redshirt Sophomore – 4 Star recruit.
White came in with the 2010 signees and redshirted his first season. Last fall, as a redshirt freshman, the practice observers raved about his playmaking ability and he was picked by many (myself included) to be a breakout player at WR. Well, a funny thing happened along the way to breaking out – he had a hard time staying on the field. White did catch 14 balls for 145, including a spectacular leaping catch in the back of the end zone against Vandy, but he struggled mightily with consistency. White was targeted 23 times by Bama QBs yet they only connected 14 times for a 60.9% completion rate – worst among the wide receivers. Many times last season, White would find himself sitting on the bench, apparently out of the WR rotation, which was a sure sign to me that he wasn’t dependable enough for the staff to trust him in the games. White does have legit 4.4 speed (he and Bell are the fastest receivers) and did show that he can be a weapon at the WR position. He’ll need to work on his consistency and refine his routes if he wants to stave off the young ones and assert himself to the top of the WR rotation. This is a critical year for Mr White as he’ll look to drown out the critics with some White noise this fall.
Chris Black – 5’11, 170. True Freshman – 4 Star recruit.
Chris Black was an early enrollee this spring which meant he was able to benefit from participating in spring drills – always a plus for a young player. While fellow early enrollee WR Amari Cooper received most of the headlines during the spring, it was actually Black who excelled during A Day with 3 catches for 61 yards and a TD. Black looked to be a perfect fit for the slot position as his size, speed and elusiveness would have been a nightmare to contend with. Unfortunately, Black suffered a knee injury and will not play in 2012.
Amari Cooper – 6’1, 175. True Freshman – 4 Star recruit.
Amari Cooper was an early enrollee (along with fellow WR Chris Black) this spring and seemed to garner much of the attention of the practice observers…and with good reason. At 6’1, this is no mini-Cooper and he plays even bigger than he’s listed. Using his size and strength, Cooper starred at Alabama’s camp (many say he dominated the camp as Julio Jones did a few years ago) and then he absolutely blew up the Under Armor All Star practices and game. In fact, not only did he perform well but he easily out-performed all of the top WRs who were ranked ahead of him. Personally, I project this kid to be the next great Alabama WR. His speed is very good and his hands are very good but it’s his ability to use his body to separate himself from coverage that makes me drool thinking he’s the next great one. While speed and hands are a necessity at the position, the DBs in the SEC are equally fast – you need to have the strength, courage and will to use your body to shield defenders away from the ball. As a true freshman, Cooper has already mastered this. I can see Cooper pushing his way into the top rotation very, very quickly – he’s that good. He reminds me just a bit of Sammy Watkins but without quite the speed…or grass.
Marvin Shinn – 6’3, 193. Redshirt Freshman – 4 Star recruit.
Shinn came in with the 2011 class as a heralded wide receiver but he redshirted last season. Off the cuff, you have to love his size. He was a part time QB in high school so his route running and comfort at the position needed to be refined during his redshirt year. Now, a year later, it will be interesting to see if he’s mastered the route tree. Shinn certainly shows off his superior leaping ability in practice – think of a hoops guy going high for a rebound – so you figure there must be a place for him at an outside receiver position. But, his overall game is a bit of a question mark and he was outperformed by fellow redshirt freshman receiver Danny Woodson (bio below) at a couple of the all star games when they were both high school seniors. With zero catches during A Day, you have to wonder what the future holds for Mr Shinn. He needs to be (and appears to be) making a move ahead of the young pups this year or he’s going to have a difficult time making his in the future.
Danny Woodson – 6’1, 205. Redshirt Freshman – 4 Star recruit.
Woodson, like Shinn, redshirted last year at the WR position. Prior to coming on campus, Woodson was recognized as outperforming Shinn at two different all star games. Woodson shows excellent toughness and size to go along with a tremendous set of ball catching mitts. Woodson is fearless and loves to compete and, while he’s not a greyhound like Bell, Norwood or White, Woodson’s physicality will keep him in the WR rotation. It will be interesting to me to see if, at the end of fall camp, he is ahead or behind Cooper and White at one of the outside receiver positions. My guess is Cooper will forge ahead but I could see Woodson passing up White if their current track records hold true to form.
Cyrus Jones – 5’11, 183. True Freshman – 4 Star recruit.
What an interesting young freshman Cyrus Jones is. Most recruiting folks felt like Jones would be ticketed for the Nick Saban secondary and, honestly, I felt the same way. Everything about Jones’ ability screams SECONDARY and, given the depth chart at WR and DB, it seems he’d be best used on the defensive side of the ball. That being said, Jones is special with the ball in his hands and he wants to be a WR. But, as a high school QB, I think Jones could need a redshirt year to acclimate himself to the position and, as others gain experience and move ahead of him on the depth chart, I can see Jones eventually moving to the side of the ball that has a dearth of young CBs on the roster. There’s simply too much talent at slot WR to see Jones pushing his way to the top of the food chain, IMO. That being said, Jones’ name has been popping up at practices and scrimmages and some say his work in the slot may be the best on the team. Stay tuned – this guy is going to be fun to talk about.
First, a note about the “Incoming” section. The kids in this section have only given a verbal commitment to Alabama and, as we’ve seen in recruiting, things can change before signing day. But, with that being said, I think it’s important to know what the future holds at the position. Here’s a look at the WRs coming soon (2013 class) to a campus near you. *Note: With six freshman WRs on the team this year, WR will not be a need position in 2013.
Raheem Falkins – 6’4, 192. 4 Star from New Orleans, LA
Falkins appears to be one of those big, tall and fast receivers that Nick really likes to have on his team. He had a productive year last year with 51 catches and 800 yards and he appears to be a nice fit since there’s only one other Bama WR with his size on the current roster. At this point he appears to be a solid commitment and the sky seems to be the limit for this big, athletic WR.
If you read thru the gobs of material above, then you may have noticed that every single WR listed is tall, fast and sports a 4 star or better rating coming out of high school. Suffice it to say there is a ton of talent at this position. This group would be even more talented if 5 Star head case Duron Carter was on the team. Reportedly, Carter struggled with the strict regimen of workouts, class work and policies that have been in effect for Saban’s teams since the dawn of time. As Saban said during his Caravan tour, on a beautiful Christmas tree full of bright lights, Duron Carter was the one light that was blinking. And, no matter how hard you look away, your attention and focus will always come back to that one darn blinking light. Saban mentioned that the team’s leadership council recognized that Duron Carter was having troubles and Saban inferred that the team wouldn’t put up with it for long. And they didn’t. Duron Carter left the team and is applying to Florida Atlantic. Thankfully, this matter is resolved so let’s move on, shall we, and just love the ones we’re with.
In my estimation, it’s a pretty wide open race for the decaplets. While, sure, Norwood seems to have separated from the group, there isn’t exactly a mountain of evidence to say he’ll hold onto the position as the team’s #1 WR. And, at the slot, I really like Christion Jones but there are a couple of guys who will be pushing him as well. It’s a bit sobering to see that White is the only non-freshman backup so you know at least two of the six freshmen will be in the two deep rotation. The talent is certainly there but this group has to be considered as the one offensive question mark on the team. But, while these receivers have just a molehill worth of experience, maybe Saban and Groh can make a mountain of production out of this molehill just yet.