“Things are looking really good, and not just for me, but for other guys who have been waiting,” Chris Black said at Alabama’s annual Media Day Sunday in discussing his chances to contribute. He mentioned “guys like Ardarius Stewart and Robert Foster; we’re all just helping each other get better, each and every day, trying to get ready for the season.”
Also a factor in the receiving rotation could be a veteran and some very fresh faces. The veteran is Oregon State graduate transfer Richard Mullaney, who Black said “looks pretty good. He’s picked up on the offense pretty well, and molded in with the rest of the guys in the receivers’ (meeting) room.”
Black said of his teammates in that room, “We’re a close-knit group, and we help each other out. This group is special, with a lot of hungry guys that have been waiting on playing time. We’re all ready to get out there and make some plays.
“Coach (Nick Saban) preaches that he’d like a lot of (receivers) to contribute, and that’s what our room brings. We’ve got a lot of guys who can do a lot of great stuff in this offense.”
Of the fresh faces who weren’t part of spring practice, Black said, “Calvin Ridley is the one who really stands out to me. He reminds me of a (younger) ‘Coop’ (NFL rookie Amari Cooper). He takes it very seriously, and looks like a vet guy already. I’m sure he’ll be able to help us a lot this year.”
Ridley isn’t the only newbie to catch Black’s eye. There’s also true freshman Daylon Charlot. “Same,” Black said. “Both of those guys (Charlot and Ridley) came in taking things very seriously. You can see them picking things up, and getting better each and every day.”
Alabama Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin said Sunday that Ardarius Stewart was probably his most talented receiver physically, and Black agrees. “Oh yeah, I think (Stewart) has gotten more mature, and learned to pay attention to all those small things that coaches have preached to him in the past. Robert Foster is doing the same thing (though Kiffin mentioned a need for more consistency from Foster).”
Some say Foster is the team’s fastest player. What does Black think? “Yeah,” he said, grinning, nodding and adding, “That guy (Foster) can move. He’s made a big improvement, like all of us, just from the spring and over the summer and now in fall camp. We’re all just going to continue to get better.”
Asked about the quarterback race, Black played things close to the vest and said, “Everybody’s been competing each and every day. All of them are hungry, and getting after it.”
How does Black see his role on this year’s team? “Just a guy who’s a leader, and a guy that really knows the offense,” he said. “I feel I can make a lot of plays, and help this team out.”
Black said his role may not be limited to just offense. “Right now, we all are kind of rotating at punt return and kick return,” he said. We’ll kind of see what the next step is. At punt return so far, it’s me, Cyrus (Jones), and pretty much the same guys who were back there in the spring.” Black added that he is also vying for a role as a kickoff returner, along with others like senior running back Kenyan Drake.
Speaking of Drake, Black said the senior speedster’s effect on this year’s offense will be “the same as it was when he was healthy (last season). He’s an explosive guy, that brings a lot of excitement and versatility to our offense.”
Though not in Black’s position group, a true freshman on offense seems to be catching eyes, including Black’s. That’s running back Damien Harris. “He’s a great player, just like all the other (new) guys on this team. This freshman class has really impressed me; all of them. They’re picking things up, and improving very well. I think our summer (running, lifting and pass-skeleton) program really helped them out, a lot.”
Black thinks this is the season tight end O.J. Howard breaks out after catching a total of 31 passes in his first 27 games. “Oh yeah,” Black said, adding that “O.J. is focused, and he’s ready to go. He’s looking great, and making a lot of plays.”
Black closed the interview by saying that, with the way last season ended in playoff disappointment, he and the other team leaders are “trying to keep guys focused in, continuing to do the right things, and reminding them that it’s all about finishing.”
For his career, Florida native Black has 23 career receptions for 267 yards and two touchdowns, while adding a 31 yard rushing touchdown. There is good reason to think that, if he stays healthy, the 6-foot, 192-pounder could surpass those numbers this season alone.