Stuart McNair

Alabama football has numbers in wide receivers corps

Fifth in a series looking at Alabama positions prior to spring practice

Alabama’s offensive reputation is that the Crimson Tide wants to run the football (that lament from fans falling on deaf ears during the College Football Playoff notwithstanding). But a look at the NFL finds two outstanding receivers in Julio Jones and Amari Cooper, both alumni of the Bama offense. Moreover, Nick Saban insists he wants to be a downfield passing threat.
To be that threat, Alabama must have a quarterback who can deliver. That, however, is for another installment in this series which is looking at all Tide positions prior to the start of spring football practice.
Alabama lost a very good receiver from the 2016 team when ArDarius Stewart, who had 54 catches for a team-high 864 yards and 8 touchdowns, elected to forego his senior year to make himself available for the NFL draft. Also gone is slot receiver Gehrig Dieter, who had 15 catches for 214 yards and 4 TDs.
Also gone from the squad is Billy Napier, who had coached Tide wide receivers before accepting the job as offensive coordinator at Arizona State following the end of the 2916 season.
But the cupboard is not empty for new wide receivers coach Mike Locksley, who was elevated from offensive analyst. He is a former head coach and offensive coordinator and will also hold the title of co-offensive coordinator at Bama.
There are three much-utilized wide receiver positions at Alabama — split end (X), flanker (Z), and slot (H). Typically, Bama wide receivers learn to play all three positions and we will consider them as a group.
Alabama’s wide receiver corps is headed up by junior Calvin Ridley (6-1, 188), who has been the Tide’s top receiver in yardage in his first two seasons. As a freshman he broke the first-year records of the aforementioned Cooper and Jones when he caught 89 passes for 1,045 yards, both also freshman Southeastern Conference records. Last season he had a team-best 72 receptions for 759 yards. He has 7 TD passes in each of his first two years.
Ridley ascended to a starting position in 2015 when Robert Foster was injured early in the year. Following the 2016 season, there were widespread reports that Foster would be graduated in May and then transfer to another school. With the departure of Napier, though, new reports have Foster electing to stay on, including spring participation. Last year Foster played in 10 games with 5 receptions for 55 yards. He has the ability to be much more productive, and his return could be a major Bama bonus.
Cam Sims, 6-5, 203, senior, was utilized more as the season progressed in 2016 and he had three starts last year. Sims caught 14 passes for 152 yards as a junior. Prior to last season he had 13 receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore Trevon Diggs, 6-2, 195, is the kind of athlete coaches fight over. He spent time in his freshman season on offense, on defense, and as a kick returner. In his time at wide receiver he caught 11 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown.
Fifth-year senior Raheem Falkins (6-4, 200), who sat out the 2015 season with injury, played in only four games last year and has played in only 19 in his previous three years. He does not have a reception in his career.
Xavian Marks, 5-8, 166, played in only one game in his freshman season in 2015. In the first game of the year, Marks caught 2 passes for 19 yards and had 1 run that failed to gain. Last season he played in four games, but without a reception or a run. He was effective as a punt and kickoff return man.
Derek Kief a 6-4, 200-pound junior, played in12 games last year and has 22 for his career. He made 4 catches for 31 yards last year and had 1-3 as a freshman in 2015.
T.J. Simmons, 6-2, 201, was an early enrollee in 2016, but his playing time in his freshman year was limited primarily to special teams. He’s expected to be in the rotation this year.
There are also three early enrollees in this class who will participate in spring practice. They are Tyrell Shavers, 6-6, 205; Jerry Judy, 6-2, 175; and Chadarius Townsend, 6-0, 180. It would not be surprising to see Townsend get a look at another position, either running back or defensive back, as he was considered one of the top all-around athletes in the 2017 signing class.
Wide receiver is an area that attracts walk-ons and sometimes they move into the playing rotation. We heard a lot about that during the CFP National Championship Game because Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney did that at Alabama.
The Tide has a handful of men who have been on the squad working at wide receiver, including:
Donnie Lee, Jr., 6-0, 180, senior; Armani Purify, 6-0, 193, senior; Thomas Woods, 6-6, 165, senior; Jonathan Rice, 6-4, 207, junior; Austin Johnson, 6-2, 200, junior; Parker Bearden, 6-1, 201, junior; and Josh Pugh, 6-1, 208, junior.
Although a starting date for Alabama spring practice has not yet been announced, it is expected to begin after the completion of The University’s spring break, which is March 11-19. The A-Day Game will be April 22.

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