No less than five senior wideouts from last year's squad have moved on. Alabama only had six receivers actually catch passes last year, and Triandos Luke, Zach Fletcher, Dre Fulgham, Brandon Greer and Lance Taylor turned in the great majority.
The Tide signed several talented receivers last February, but obviously they won't arrive until August. And regardless, it would be foolish to expect true freshmen to shoulder the entire load.
"We really do need to come up with several more wide receivers this spring," junior quarterback Spencer Pennington said. "No question."
Sophomore Tyrone Prothro (5-8, 173) really came on the latter part of last season and played well. He finished with 16 catches for 191 yards and one touchdown. Still a youngster age-wise, Prothro will be counted on to lead the unit.
Senior Tarry Givens (6-5, 220) is still on the squad, and junior Brandon Brooks (5-4, 163) brings speed to the table. Unfortunately for Brooks, his height is a liability. It's not just a matter of inches, though obviously a quarterback can't afford an overthrow. But Brooks' small frame means he has real trouble shielding the defender from the ball.
Numerous promising walk-ons hope to make an impact. As a former quarterback Matt Miller (6-3, 199) has good size and soft hands, and West Alabama transfer Matt Ragland (5-10, 190) is now eligible.
We talked with Pennington recently to get his comments on several of the younger receivers, working to make a name for themselves this spring. Who better to give a quick scouting report on a wideout than one of the team's quarterbacks?
At 6-2, 173, Marcus McKnight has solid size, though he needs to add some bulk. A late signee in 2002, this will be McKnight's second spring and third season on campus. Known for his straight-ahead speed, the Florida native has yet to play a down in college.
"Marcus is a tall guy," Pennington said. "He's great off the ball and runs good routes. Potentially he could develop into a big-time receiver for us."
As the saying goes, speed is one attribute that simply can't be coached. And Matt Caddell has impressed Pennington. In high school Caddell (6-0, 171) was his team's speed merchant, running by and around would-be tacklers as a ball carrier and receiver. Caddell was especially dominant returning kicks. At Alabama Caddell is working to polish the rough edges of his game as a receiver.
"Matt Caddell could be big-time," Pennington stated flatly. "He's got as much speed as anybody on the squad, freshman or otherwise. He's as fast as I've seen here in a long time."
Every coach (and quarterback) is looking for that athlete with the extra gear, capable of stretching a defense long.
Pennington commented, "Matt can cover some ground, and that's what we need. Somebody that can be a deep threat."
The body-build is leaner, but the face is familiar. Also a redshirt freshman, Will Roach (6-1, 187) has the look of a quality athlete.
"That shouldn't surprise you," Pennington said. "Will comes from a long line of athletes. His oldest brother, Tim (Bowens, ‘96-'99), played here as a receiver. And now Freddie plays middle linebacker. I think Alabama football is in their blood."
Roach also played safety in high school, and some fans think he could handle the position in college. But with the Tide's need at wide receiver, expect him to stick on offense.
"Will does a great job for us and is getting better every day," Pennington said.
Two of the more intriguing receiver prospects are not on scholarship, but that definitely doesn't mean they aren't talented athletes. Both Scoop McDowell (San Francisco Giants) and Damien Jones (Atlanta Braves) spent several years playing Minor League Baseball. Their pro contracts provide money for their college education, which means they don't count against the Tide's scholarship numbers. But both McDowell and Jones sport plenty of physical skill.
Jones (6-2, 215) was an all-star quarterback for Vigor High School in Mobile. So not only is he working to get back in football shape, but he's also adjusting to a new position.
He's still got a lot of work to do, but fans should not be surprised if Jones is in the middle of things next fall.
"Damien comes in with a lot of speed," Pennington said. "He set a record in high school stealing bases, and he was a threat with the Braves. That tells you he can run."
McDowell (6-0, 185) is leaner than Jones, but speed is also his best attribute. Depending on whether you're listing two or three wide receivers, he's probably already on Alabama's two-deep depth chart.
"Scoop has been doing a great job for us," Pennington said. "He's been learning in the film room and working hard with his conditioning."
Just because an athlete excels at one sport does not guarantee he can translate that skill to the football field. But by virtue of playing the outfield in baseball, both Jones and McDowell have a leg up in learning the receiver position.
Pennington commented, "Both Damien and Scoop have great hands. Being out there playing outfield you've got to have soft hands. Both of them are pro-baseball-quality defenders playing outfield.
"That shows you they can run. And again, that's what we need."