Today’s preview takes a look at the talented group of wide receivers that Coach Nick Saban has accumulated for the University of Alabama. Alabama’s offensive identity is seen as a ground and pound offensive attack so it’s interesting to me that so many top notch receivers continue to sign up to play for the Tide. Take a look at the quality WRs Alabama has brought in since 2008:
2008 – Five star Julio Jones
2009 – Four stars Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood
2010 – Four star DeAndrew White
2011 – Four stars Danny Woodson Jr and Marvin Shinn
2012 – Five star Eddie Williams and four stars Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Cyrus Jones
2013 – Five star Robert Foster and four star Raheem Falkins
Now, to be fair, things aren’t all lollipops and gumdrops at this position. Since last season we have seen four different players at this position either leave the program or transfer to another position. Danny Woodson Jr is currently indefinitely suspended (and few if any players have come back from an indefinite suspension). Marvin Shinn is transferring. Eddie Williams was dismissed from the team and rumor has it that Cyrus Jones is lining up with the defensive backs this spring. Additionally, Kevin Norwood evidently had foot surgery over the offseason to get a turf toe corrected so he won’t be practicing and DeAndrew White is coming off of a torn ACL suffered in September of last year.
So, what’s left? A truckload of talent, that’s what.
Amari Cooper – 6’1, 198 Sophomore
After leading Alabama in catches (59), yards (1,000) and touchdowns (11) as a true freshman, what can he possibly do for an encore? When I first spotted Cooper, he was a man among boys in the Under Armor All American game. His size and speed were impressive enough but the way he used his body to create separation from his defender was already NFL caliber. Last season, Coop displayed the hands, the size and the speed of a first round NFL draft pick and, again, he was just a freshman. The expectations are pretty high for the passing game this season but the sky is the limit when you are hanging with this Mr Cooper.
Kenny Bell – 6’1, 180 Senior
While Kenny Bell was only the fourth leading wide receiver in catches with 17, he led the team with an amazing 25.4 yards per catch. To put that in perspective, big play Amari Cooper averaged 16.9 yards per catch. Bell’s speed is top notch and Bama found a ton of success by using him on crossing patters thru the middle of the defense. He routinely turned a 4 yard pass into a big gainer as he easily outraced his defender across the field. With Kevin Norwood out and DeAndrew White working his way back into shape, Kenny Bell would appear primed to have a big spring. A big spring should set the stage for a big 2013 and with more passes being thrown, we look for Bell to be even more involved in the offense this season.
Kevin Norwood – 6’2, 195 Senior
Last season, Norwood was the second leading receiver for Alabama as he hauled in 29 passes for 469 yards and four touchdowns. I looked it up and it turns out that, no, he didn’t do all of his damage against LSU – it only seems that way. Norwood appears to have had off season surgery so he will not be participating in the spring. If the surgery was for a turf toe injury as most suspect, his rehab and ability to be 100% in September could possibly be in doubt. We love Norwood’s size, hands and rapport with McCarron but with so many talented receivers around him, Norwood may be hard pressed to match his 2012 production this year. Of course, by the time Alabama plays LSU, I suspect Mr Norwood will be feeling juuuuust fine…
Christion Jones – 5’11, 185 Junior
I’m a huge fan of Christion Jones so I was a bit surprised that he was the third leading wide receiver last season with 27 catches for 368 yards. I was even more surprised to find out that he has spent time during the first two spring practices at corner. Call me a naysayer but I just don’t believe Jones’ future is at corner. Jones’ ability to get wide open from the slot position is pretty well chronicled and his hands are said to be some of the best on the team so the Lighthouse team feels certain that Jones is one of AJ’s favorite targets. The 2013 season will be an interesting one for Jones because Chris Black is said to be knocking very loudly on the door and is earning more and more time out of the slot position. If Black garners a good deal of playing time, that should come at the expense of Jones so, again, this spring will be an important one for him as he tries to hold on to his starting gig. However, with Cyrus Jones lining up at corner and the inexperience of the rest of the corps, we have little doubt that Jones will line up as the starter next year (but we do officially wonder how much time he’ll lose to the likes of Black).
DeAndrew White – 5’11 185 Junior
I also happen to be a huge fan of DeAndrew White and he’s shown glimpses of just how good he can be. You first saw it in 2011 against Vandy when White made a leaping catch in the back of the end zone on a ball that seemed to be thrown into the stands. Then, last year against Michigan it was White streaking down the sidelines after making a double move that Jerry Rice would have been proud of. Unfortunately, just as he was starting to emerge as a top wide out an ACL injury took White’s season down during just his fifth game of the year. Now it remains to be seen if that injury still lingers – he’s been wearing a black no contact jersey for the first two practices. White is one of the Tide’s fastest players and he’s shown that he has the hands to go with it so getting him healthy is a priority however it’s doubtful he’ll be 100% during spring camp.
Chris Black – 5’11, 178 Redshirt Freshman
Speaking of kids who suffered an ACL injury just as they were getting started, Chris Black wowed everyone in the Bama camp last spring and was vying for a significant amount of playing time in 2012. However, Black injured his shoulder in fall camp and was headed for a redshirt until Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones all suffered injuries at the end of the year. Suddenly, a certain redshirt changed to a crimson jersey as Black was asked to prepare to play against Georgia and Notre Dame. Thankfully, things worked out so that Black could protect his redshirt and this season he’ll return to being a freshman of significance. Originally, coming out of high school Black was actually the more highly thought of receiver between he and Cooper. Black is elusive, fast and shows a tremendous pair of hands. He should be quite the nightmare coming out of the slot position and he’s going to be a ton of fun to watch during the spring. We look for big things out of Black this spring and this season, as well.
Raheem Falkins – 6’4, 195 True Freshman
Raheem Falkins is an early enrollee and he’s a bit of an unknown coming into spring camp. Falkins did not get invited to any of the big time high school all star games but the Tide staff loves this kid. Falkins brings a different look to the WR position as he has a 6’4 frame that is, of course, built on speed. When you have 1,058 yards receiving and 14 TDs in high school, it would appear that you kind of know what you are doing at the position. With injuries to Norwood and White combined with the absences of Woodson and Shinn, Falkins will have a tremendous opportunity to stake his claim to a large chunk of playing time in 2013.
Robert Foster – 6’2, 185 True Freshman
The Lighthouse welcomes in the #1 wide receiver in America as ranked by 247 Sports and boy are we glad to have him. Foster shined during the Under Armor All American game practices and reminded many of a kid named Amari Cooper. Foster has a similar build to Cooper and, like Coop, seems to have a knack for using his body to create separation from his defenders. In high school, Foster had 756 yards of receiving to go with 14 touchdowns. He also was a dynamic runner, showing off some skills while gaining 549 yards rushing and 12 more touchdowns. Obviously the kid is a great athlete. Unfortunately, Foster is not enrolling until this summer so he won’t be able to start climbing up the depth chart until then. At that point, Norwood and White should be healthy and Falkins will have 15 more practices under his belt. The forecast is a little cloudy where Foster is concerned. He obviously has plenty of talent but the depth chart is going to work against him quite a bit.
ArDarius Stewart – 6’1, 190 True Freshman
Stewart is possibly the most underrated kid in the class. Last season, he played QB for his Fultondale team, rushing for 1,923 yards and 35 touchdowns and throwing for 1,034 yards and 11 more touchdowns. Stewart is a dynamic playmaker and will likely be featured in the slot and as a returner (a la Christion Jones). According to many, Stewart has legit 4.4 or faster speed in the 40 yard dash so rest assured the offensive coaching staff will try to find some ways to get this kid onto the field somehow. Not too many folks are talking about Stewart but we at the Lighthouse are really excited about this kid!
You know, I really don’t think you can discount the losses of Shinn, Woodson, Williams and Cyrus Jones (settle down, he’s just moving over to defense). When you combine these losses to the injury situations to Kevin Norwood and DeAndrew White then you realize that depth is a bit of a concern. However, even with all of that being the case, the 2013 Alabama wide receiving corps will be the deepest and most talented group in Tide history. Comparitives are by nature subjective but I simply do not think you can find a deeper or more talented group in the annals of Tide history. Absorb that for a minute. Did you follow bit about the injury issues and departures? Yet this is STILL the deepest and most talented collection of Bama wide receivers we’ve ever seen!
I guess I’ll go ahead and stay with “Blasphemy” for $500, Alec. Julio Jones is absolutely getting it done in the NFL and he’s arguably showing himself to be a better receiver in the pros than in college. You love his 6’4 frame with a chiseled 220 lbs built around it. However, from what I have seen from Amari Cooper, I think I like him just a little bit better as a wide receiver – he’s certainly better at this point in his career. I think Cooper’s ability to play the ball in the air by using his body and hands to high point the ball is better now than Julio ever was at the Capstone. Jones clearly has more size and is more impactful as a blocker but, for my money, I like Cooper as a pure receiver much more. We’ll get to enjoy him for two more years and then he’s going to make some NFL team very, very happy.
So, Cooper is a stud. We expect Alabama to pass the football more this season and, if that’s the case, you can expect a lot of double or bracket coverage on Cooper. This should leave Bell, Norwood, Jones and Black in one on one situations throughout the season. Additionally, you have another potential matchup nightmare with OJ Howard out of the tight end position. I look for Bell and Black to be the two kids who benefit from this the most as their speed and elusiveness should result in some wide open gains in the middle of the field. It’s going to be an exciting time for the QBs and WRs at Alabama this season and if the OL can hold up, you should see some Bama records fall in 2013.