There were many big plays in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in which Alabama won the 2015 title with a 45-40 win over Clemson. Who wouldn’t remember the onside kick by Adam Griffith to Marlon Humphrey or the 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Kenyan Drake? Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry started the Crimson Tide scoring with a 50-yard run.
But most memorable was the offensive performance by tight end O.J. Howard, who had five receptions for 208 yards, including touchdown plays of 53 and 51 yards and a career-long catch-and-run of 63 yards that set up another TD. Those passes were thrown by Bama quarterback Jake Coker, now departed.
Among fans, at least, the biggest question regarding the 2016 season is which of four candidates is going to win the quarterback job. Junior Cooper Bateman, sophomore David Cornwell, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett, and true freshman Jalen Hurts resume the competition when Alabama opens fall camp on Aug. 4.
An important aspect for those quarterbacks is that Bama is likely to see mostly single coverage on its receiving corps, in part because Howard – who has the speed of a wide receiver – will draw more attention from defenses after his breakout game against Clemson.
Aside from Howard, Alabama has a talented wide receiving corps, starting with sophomore Calvin Ridley. A freshman All-America last year, Ridley set Crimson Tide freshman records with 89 receptions for 1,045 yards in 2015, eclipsing the previous mark of 1,000 held by Amari Cooper (2012). His 89 receptions were also an SEC freshman record and the second most in FBS history by a true freshman. Ridley was selected to the Sporting News and Southeastern Conference coaches to the Freshman All-SEC teams. A big-play threat, 17 of Ridley’s catches went for 15-plus yards, including five of his seven scores which came on plays of 30 yards or more. Ridley, 6-1, 188, also had a team-leading 44 receptions for a first down or scores and recorded five or more catches in nine of his 11 starts and 11 games overall.
It was no surprise when Ridley was selected to the Biletnikoff Award watch list for 2016. The award is presented by the Tallahassee (Fla.) Quarterback Club to the nation’s top wide receiver. The awaqrd is named in honor of former FSU and Oakland Raiders star Fred Biletnikoff and will be presented in December. Bama’s Amari Cooper won the award in 2014.
But wait! There’s more!
Also among the 53 receivers from around the nation named to the preseason watch list is newcomer Gehrig Dieter, a senior graduate transfer to Alabama.
A transfer from Bowling Green State University, Dieter was a second team All-MAC selection at wide receiver for the Falcons in in 2015. He caught a team-high 94 passes (fourth in Bowling Green school history) for 1,038 yards (ninth in school history), while adding 10 receiving touchdowns (tied-seventh in school history) and had three 100-yard receiving games. Dieter, 6-3, 207, caught a season-high 13 passes for 103 yards and a career-best three touchdowns against Toledo and had seven catches for 133 yards and a touchdown in the season opener against Tennessee. He also posted a season-high 136 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches against Ohio University. Dieter helped lead BG to the MAC Championship game and a 34-14 victory over Northern Illinois and a spot in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
Dieter could fill a role in the Alabama receiving rotation that was held by another graduate transfer last year. Richard Mullaney transferred in from Oregon State and was the Tide’s third-leading receiver in 2015 with 34 catches for 308 yards and five touchdowns.
Alabama’s second-leading receiver from last year would also bear “watching” by the Biletnikoff committee. ArDarius Stewart, 6-1, 204, started all 15 games for Bama last year and had 63 receptions for 700 yards and four touchdowns with 31 of his catches good for either a first down or touchdown. Speaking of big plays in the national championship game, his acrobatic catch along the sideline for a 38-yard gain on a third-and-11 play kept a scoring drive alive for the Tide in the fourth quarter.
And there are others. Junior Robert Foster, 6-1, 191, was the Alabama starter ahead of Ridley to start 2015 before suffering a season-ending injury against Ole Miss. Cam Sims (6-5, 203) and Derrick Kief (6-4, 200) are big targets, and Daylon Charlot (6-0, 195) has seen playing time.
Someone is going to get single coverage. Or, perhaps as Howard did in the win over Clemson, no coverage.