Alabama Wide Receivers Get Ready for Season of Change
With AJ McCarron leaving, there will be a lot of attention from both fans and media on the quarterback competition. Whoever wins that battle will be throwing to a receiving core that is going through some transition as well. Last season, Kevin Norwood was Mr Reliable for the Tide. He's gone. Kenny Bell was able to stretch defenses with his incredible speed. He's gone. What remains is still a talented collection of individuals, but they are not without questions.
Probably the marquee player returning for the receiving core is Amari Cooper. In 2012, Cooper became the first Alabama freshman, and only the fourth Alabama player ever, to have 1,000 receiving yard in a single season. Last season, nagging injuries hurt his production, though he finished the season strong, even recording a 99-yard TD against Auburn. Cooper goes from being a young talent to being a de facto leader on the team this year. How will he adjust to this role?
Some more returning talents include DeAndrew White and Chistion Jones. White, like Bell, was a force down the field. Jones had solid receiving numbers, but was more notable for returning kicks. He returned a punt and a kick-off for TDs against Virginia Tech to start the season, and was one of the best special teams players in the SEC. However, neither were very consistent throughout the season. Still, as seniors they provide experience, and when breaking in a new QB, that can be even more important than talent.
So where does the rest of the group stand? Low numbers at corner over the last two years mean that a lot of players recruited as receivers have been converted to defensive backs in order to fill needs. The result is a gap between the returning starters and the very inexperienced backups. Of that group, the most experienced is Chris Black. Black was redshirted in 2012 due to an injury sustained during summer practice, and last season he saw mainly mop-up duty. Though he had some very impressive plays, he did not get much meaningful playing time. That should change this season.
Another redshirted player to watch is Robert Foster. A 4/5-star prospect coming out of high school, Foster sat out last season as the receiving core was stacked and he likely would not have seen much time. That is not as much the case this year. Foster has some catching up to do, but coaches believe his talent can help the Tide. He should get some competition from true freshman Cameron Sims. One of the Tide's several heralded recruits out of Louisiana, Sims brings immediate size at 6-4.
With the addition of new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, Alabama can expect to find the tight ends more active in the passing game. That should be alright with most Tide fans because that means more O.J. Howard in the offense. Howard played some meaningful minutes for the Tide last season as a freshman, including a spectacular performance against LSU. If he can be more consistent, Howard could be an all-conference player. Kiffin's USC offenses also used running backs frequently in passing game. T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake should both benefit from this plan.
The Tide will not be short on talent in the passing game this season. However, the experience is not where it was last year. This spring will be important to see how the receivers gel with the new QBs. Still, the man expected to win the starting job at QB, FSU transfer Jacob Coker, won't be on campus until this summer. In the meantime, the Tide will have to evaluate the receivers on how they handle with either Blake Simms, Cooper Bateman, or David Cornwell.