The Wide Receiver Problem

A case can be made that for success by Alabamas 2004 football team, the most serious problem to be overcome is the lack of experience, depth, and proven skill at the wide receiver positions. Rare is the modern football team that can be efficient with fewer than five accomplished players to man two, three, or more wideout spots.

The Alabama offense most often relies on a standard formation of two wide receivers, a split end and a flanker. Passing situations often call for insertion of a third, either a slotback replacing the fullback or another split end replacing the tight end. Special situations could include two split ends, a flanker and a slotback (four-wide) or even two split ends and three flankers (five-wide).

(A split end is a line position and a flanker is a back position. There must always be seven men on the line of scrimmage and unless there is a number problem, two of them are ends in some combination of split and tight. A flanker or slotback is a back position and must be behind the line of scrimmage.)

It is not easy to fill five wide receiver spots on a paper depth chart of the 2004 Crimson Tide. The difficulty facing Coach Mike Shula and his staff in finding real bodies to get through a season of 11-13 games is far greater. But it is a job that must be done.

The work of replacing five regular wide receivers who were seniors in 2003 (Triandos Luke, Zach Fletcher, Dre Fulgham, Lance Taylor and Brandon Greer) started over a year ago on the recruiting board in the Bama foootball offices. Crimson Tide coaches knew that wide receiver would be a recruiting priority for the class of 2004. And Bama seems to have been successful in adding new pass catchers, although there have been setbacks on that front.

Years ago I wrote something that at least one friend has never let me forget. Wayne Wheeler, one of Alabamas all-time great receivers, had been graduated following the 1973 season. In an outlook on Crimson Tide football for the 1974 season, I wrote, It will be impossible for Alabama to replace Wayne Wheeler at split end. Now, I knew that Ozzie Newsome was a member of the 1974 Bama freshman class. But I had no idea he would rank among the greatest ever, and be first team almost from the beginning of his Alabama career. (He didnt start the first game in 1974, but he was in on the second offensive series and never relinquished starting status after that.)

The point of that admission is that wide receiver is a position where a freshman even one not as talented as Ozzie Newsome can play quickly and be a positive factor.

Last February, Alabama signed six players who were listed as wide receiver prospects. It is not out of the question that a seventh of those 27 signees could be a wide receiver. The hope was that five of the signees would come in to play wide receiver, one Marcel Stamps (6-3, 190) of Brantley would be a gray shirt, delaying entry to The University until the winter of 2005, and the seventh Aaron McDaniel (6-1, 170) of Fort Payne would remain at safety.

Reliable reports have it that Stamps will now be one of the 19 players (among 27 signees) Bama will have report in August. McDaniel is expected to remain at safety on the pre-season depth chart.

The five expected to help fill the ranks at wide receiver are Keith Brown (6-3, 190) of Pensacola, Florida; D.J. Hall (6-3, 170) of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Choctowhatchee; Ezekiel Knight (6-3, 210) of Wedowee Randolph County; Will Oakley (6-1, 19), of St. Augustine, Florida, Nease; and Nikita Stover (6-2, 187) of Hartselle.

The good news is that the three Florida signees are all expected to be eligible and enter Alabama in time for the start of fall work on August 9. The corresponding bad news is that at least one (and probably both) of the Alabama signees will not be eligible. Stover has announced that he will not attempt to make a passing score on a summer ACT and will head for junior college, then re-open the recruiting process in 2006. Knight is thought to need to make a passing score on the Alabama High School Exit Examination, which he could achieve before August. Otherwise, his future could take one of several paths.

A frequent citation is that sophomore Tyrone Prothro (5-8, 173) is Alabamas leading returning receiver and that his statistics are less than glittering with nine games played, 16 receptions, 191 total yards, one touchdown, and a long play of 35 yards. Of course, had Luke not caught 32 passes, Fulgham 29, Fletcher 21, Greer 14, and Taylor 12, there might have been more for Prothro.

As for other returning wide receivers and their 2003 statistics? Well, there are none.

But that doesnt mean there isnt some experience besides Prothros limited work at the wide receiver positions. Antonio Carter (A.C. Carter to his friends and fans) was expected to be Alabamas leading receiver in 2002. He spent that season on the sidelines recuperating from a difficult surgery following a stress fracture in his shin. And he missed all of 2003 as he continued to have pain from the injury and surgery. And Carter did not take part in spring practice this year.

Carter (5-9, 188) did gain a sixth year of eligibility so that he will be able to participate in 2004. James Andrews, the famous surgeon to the stars and Alabamas team doctor, has done subsequent surgery on Carter and declared the receiver fit for action. Still, Carter will have to prove it on the field. He would certainly like to do that. His 106 career receptions is fourth most in Crimson Tide football history, and hes only 46 behind all-time leader Freddie Milons.

Junior Brandon Brooks is a fan-favorite, in part because he is a little mana VERY little man at 5-4, 163playing a big mans game. And it didnt hurt Brooks reputation that he returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown against Auburn last year. Brooks had a very good spring, but must be considered a bit of a liability as a wide receiver because he is not going to out-jump many defenders for a ball and also because he is such a small target for the quarterback.

Two 2003 signees were redshirted last year and will have four years of eligibility beginning this fall. Matt Caddell (6-0, 171) had a good spring and is expected to be in the playing rotation. Will roach (6-1, 187) got off to a slow start in the spring and needs a good summer of work.

Senior Tarry Givens (6-5, 220) and sophomore Marcus McKnight (6-2, 173) have been inconsistent practice performers. Time has about run out for Givens, but McKnight mightyet make it into the playing rotation.

There was great anticipation that Bama might get help at wide receiver from the ranks of professional baseball. Scoop McDowell and Damien Jones signed baseball contracts out of high school, but after failing to make the major leagues tried football comebacks as walk-ons at Alabama. After more than a year of work, McDowell gave up midway through spring practice. Jones just entered The University in January, but is not expected to return to the football field in August.

Unlike players at some positions, wide receivers can improve their skills dramatically in summer workouts, pass skeleton drills in which quarterbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, running backs, linebackers and defensive backs work on the passing and pass defense game. Even without benefit of coaches, players can get prepared for fall ball. All serious contenders for a 2004 job will be on Thomas Field this summer.

EDITORS NOTE: This is one in a summer series of analyses of Alabama football positions.

Previously in this series, the Tight End position.

Previously in this series, the Quarterback position.

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