It’s early yet, but with all the talk about the quarterback battle being waged on the Alabama practice field, one can’t help but think about the urgency to have someone who can get the football to the Crimson Tide receivers.
There is also the matter of one (or more) of the Alabama running backs developing into the Tide’s bread and butter game, but there is no question that Bama has a receiving corps to be reckoned with.
“This is a a good problem to have,” said Alabama Coach Nick Saban when asked about managing wide receiver depth.
He said, “We have three or four guys that have really played a lot of football here and played pretty well and been productive. Then we have the addition of a couple freshmen and a couple other guys that are developing, as well as a transfer who has been very productive where he played.”
The returning stars are headed by sophomore Calvin Ridley, a Freshman All-America last year with Bama freshman records of 89 catches for 1,045 yards (breaking marks held by former Tide greats Julio Jones and Amari Cooper).
Senior ArDarius Stewart had 63 catches for 700 yards and four TDs and was notable for making the big catch in the clutch.
Saban has to hope that Robert Foster, who started last season at No. 1, can have an injury-free year.
Alabama Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin pointed out, “People forget as great as Calvin Ridley was last year, Calvin actually backed Robert last year until Robert got hurt. To see Robert really to develop – I didn’t really see him his redshirt freshman year -- to see him grow in the program as part of the process and end up starting last year and scoring a touchdown in the opener, and I think he would have had a great season if he hadn’t gotten hurt. Very special skill set as far as speed and ability to get on top of the coverage downfield and if he’s healthy I think he’ll really have another one, too. He’ll play well and help the guys around him.”
And Saban certainly thinks of tight end O.J. Howard in that receiving corps, particularly after Howard’s MVP performance as Bama won the 2015 national championship with its win over Clemson at the end of last season. Howard finished with 38 catches for 602 yards and two touchdowns (both TDs coming in the College Football Playoff Championship Game).
The newcomers include a graduate transfer, Gehrig Dieter, who was All-MAC last year at Bowling Green (Ohio).
Two wide receivers are part of Alabama’s acclaimed 2016 signing class. They are Trevon Diggs (6-2, 185), who was highly regarded as both a wide receiver and defensive back and who was ranked by Scout.com as the No. 1 athlete in the Eastern half of the United States, and T.J. Simmons, who was an early enrollee and took part in spring practice.
Although Alabama lost a couple of wide receivers in the off-season in Chris Black and Daylon Charlot, the returning cast includes the likes of junior Cam Sims, third-year sophomore Derrick Kief, and sophomore Xavian Marks.
Saban said, “Last year we really kind of didn't have the depth at receiver. It was really concerning in terms of if we lost another player it would have really affected our team. So we would like to have six receivers at least that we feel can go out there and play winning football for us. Therefore, we can play more players, they can be more involved in different roles in the game, we can actually save and alternate our players so they don't get tired in the game, especially when you go no-huddle.
“They run a take-off route 40 yards down the field, sometimes they come off and somebody else goes in for them. To be able to do that is really, really important. I think this is a positive on our team. I'm just hopeful that we can get each and every one of those guys to play at a high level and they can have a very productive year.”
And so Alabama needs someone – Cooper Bateman or Blake Barnett or Jalen Hurts or David Cornwell – to win the quarterback job and be able to take advantage of the riches Bama has at the receiver spots.