Hanks Would Like To YAC It Up

For the nitty-gritty football follower (and for coaches), there is something called YAC. Whereas most think of a pass play going for a number of yards--the quarterback throwing a 30-yard (or whatever) pass to a receiver--the YAC stat breaks it down. Yards After Catch. A receiver's first job when a pass is thrown to him is to catch the football. The complete receiver then does something with it.

Darius Hanks would like to YAC it up. Alabama Coach Nick Saban has mentioned the sophomore from Norcross, Ga., as someone who can make plays.

Alabama has one of the nation's finest wide receivers in Julio Jones. One, however, is not enough. Saban has pointed out the need for additional wide receivers for an Alabama offense that sometimes uses as many as four at a time. The usual Crimson Tide offensive formation has two or three wide receivers.

Hanks is one of the men Saban lists as possibly being in the rotation. Alabama wide receivers get experience at both outside (split end) and inside (slot) positions.

Saban said that Hanks got some experience last year, and that this season will not be "something he's never done before."

Perception is everything. Hanks doesn't think that he played much at all in 2008. He was injured prior to the Georgia game and did not even dress for a few games, missing four in a row. The record shows that he played in eight games, had eight receptions, and gained eighty-eight yards. Six of his eight receptions were good for first downs, including two on third down plays.

Saban said, "He plays with a lot more toughness now. He's a lot more physical. He's a little stronger. He's got really good hands. He's very athletic, and I think he's playing with confidence right now. I think he can make plays for us. He's a guy we want to continue to develop, and I think he will make plays."

Playing both outside and in the slot if fine with Hanks. "I want to be very versatile," he said. "I want to play inside and outside and not just be known as a guy who can catch very well. I want to be known as a guy who can catch the ball and do something with it. I thought I did a good job last year when I got the chance. This year I expect to be used more and I want to show more."

Hanks said, "Playing the slot, you have to take a little bit of a beating in there. Outside is different. I try to condition my body in the best shape that I can to be able to play with those guys on the field." He said he had gained "about 10 pounds of muscle since last year and now packs 184 pounds on his 6-0 frame. He added, "I'm trying to eat good this year.

"In the slot, I feel you have to be a little smaller but a little bulkier," Hanks said. "I'm not bulkier, but I can make guys miss when they try to throw me off my route. I feel like that's an advantage that I have."

Hanks said he got help from an Alabama graduate assistant coach. Of course, Mike Groh is not just any graduate assistant. The former offensive coordinator at Virginia is plumping up his resume with a year under Saban while he collects a regular paycheck from his former employer. Hanks said, "When I'm in the slot and guys try to re-route me. One of our new coaches, Coach Groh, he taught me a little technique, that when I come through just to lower my shoulder a little bit and that's going to help me a lot to get past those defenders and get open."

Hanks also feels it's an advantage to practice each day with Julio Jones and against the Alabama defense.

"We're all out there to try to make each other better," he said. "Julio is a great receiver, and I feel I'm a great receiver. I think we're going to have a good bunch this year. I think we'll be able to run four out there and then replace them with four more."

Like everyone else, Hanks realizes that his teammate, Julio Jones, is special. "Just look at the guy," Hanks said. "He's a beast. He just has the body physique and he can do it al. He can catch, run routes…do it all."

In practice, Hanks frequently finds himself going against cornerback Javier Arenas. "Javy and I are at each other's neck every day," the receiver said. "I make him better; he makes me better. I don't think I'll go up against another guy all season who is better than Javy. The same for guys like (safety) Justin Woodall and Rolando and Don't'a (linebackers Rolando McClain and Don't'a Hightower). Just going up against those guys every day just makes us all better."

Hanks and Arenas share a brashness, but Hanks is coy about the amount of trash talk between the two. "We jaw a little," he said. "But Coach Saban doesn't like that very much. After the play, we pat each other on the butt and keep going."

Hanks thinks "the ball is going to be spread around a lot" in the Alabama passing game this year. Hanks is familiar with the man who will be spreading it. His first reception of 2008 came against Western Kentucky, an 18-yard gain on a pass from Greg McElroy. This year McElroy will be the starting Bama quarterback.

"He's in the playbook, he's in the film room, and he's always telling us what we have to do to get better," Hanks said of his quarterback. "Everybody loves Greg. He's just a great leader."

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