For the second consecutive year, injuries have affected Alabama at a position where the Crimson Tide expected to be very deep.
Alabama returns Freshman All-America Calvin Ridley, who broke the freshman records of current NFL stars Julio Jones and Amari Cooper with 89 receptions (also a Southeastern Conference record, most in the SEC, and second best by any major college freshman) for 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns.
Ridley moved into the starting lineup when Rob Foster suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the third game of Bama’s 2015 national championship season.
The Tide also returns ArDarius Stewart, who in his first year as a starter in 2015 as a sophomore, pulled in 63 passes for 700 yards and four touchdowns.
Ridley, Stewart, and Foster were all ticketed as first team receivers for 2016.
Backup wide receivers from 2015 who are back for this include Cam Sims, Derek Kief, and Xavian Marks.
Alabama also added a graduate transfer, Gehrig Dieter, who caught 94 passes for 1,038 yards last year at Bowling Green. True freshmen Trevon Diggs and T.J. Simmons have seen limited action at wide receiver (with Diggs also working in the secondary and as a kickoff and punt return man).
The 2015 Tide was basically known for its running attack with Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry rushing for SEC records of 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns. Nevertheless, the Bama passing game was fourth best in the SEC, averaging 227.1 yards per game and producing 22 touchdowns.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, “We thought that was a position we had pretty good depth this year. Lo and behold, you lose two guys for a game or two, and all of a sudden, you're not as deep as you thought.”
As Alabama prepares for its Saturday Homecoming game against Kentucky (6 p.m. CDT on ESPN), injuries to the wide receiver corps are in the news again.
Both Stewart and Foster were held out of last week’s game against Kent State and are set for what Saban called “sort of right-before-the-game decisions. I can’t really tell you who could or who couldn’t play.
In Wednesday’s practice, Stewart was running and Foster was practicing on a limited basis.
Saban said that replacements for injured players “don’t fall out of the sky. We’re coaching the guys we have. They’re doing a good job. That's our main focus and concern, the guys on our team, how can we make them better and how can they be more productive when the game comes, and they've been working hard to do that and we're happy about that.
“Trevon Diggs (3 catches, 23 yards) and Cam Sims (4 receptions, 54 yards) did a really good job in the last game. Dieter is still working and doing a good job.”
Saban discussed the process of giving receivers repititions with the quarterbacks. He said, "We try to share the reps in terms of how guys are going to play. Receiver is a position where you like to play multiple players so guys don't get worn down in a game or as the season progresses.
“But this [injury situation] has offered other guys an opportunity.
“Hopefully we'll get these [injured] guys back quickly and we'll be better than we were before because of the experience they [backups] gained.”
Thus far, Ridley leads the Bama receiving corps with 20 catches for 224 yards and 1 touchdown. Stewart has 13 catches for 205 yards and 3 TDs.null