Kenny Bell will be one of the main weapons counted to make big plays in the Crimson Tide's passing attack this fall.
Perhaps no unit will personify Alabama’s makeover on offense this fall more than its wide receiver group.
With a new offensive coordinator in Doug Nussmeier, and having to replace the likes of Trent Richardson and Marquis Maze amongst others, the 2012 edition of Alabama’s offense will look different from the unit that dominated LSU in the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans five months ago.
Both starting wideouts from last season have moved on—and Nick Saban’s squad returns just two receivers that caught a touchdown pass last season (Kenny Bell and DeAndrew White each recorded two).
The roster includes several contributors from last season who will be counted on to raise their level of play this fall and several talented youngsters itching to crack the rotation.
So which receivers are candidates to break out this fall?
Find out in this breakdown of Alabama’s pass-catching unit.
With the uncertain status of Michael Bowman, Ronald Carswell and Duron Carter, Alabama could possibly enter the season with just eight receivers on scholarship (although a pair of true freshmen, Eddie Williams and Cyrus Jones, were signed as athletes but could end up at receiver).
Shinn (6’3”, 198 pounds) and Woodson, Jr. (6’1”, 195 pounds) are a pair of redshirt freshmen with the size and speed to bring an added dimension to the passing attack.
Both 2011 class members were two of Alabama’s top prep wideouts two years ago, and each player should get an opportunity to validate their lofty high-school credentials this season (Shinn was an Under Armour All-American while Woodson, Jr. was a US Army All-American and scored an eye-popping 25 touchdowns as a junior).
Considering the physical nature of the sport and Alabama’s low numbers (in terms of depth) at the position, do not be surprised if one (or both) of these freshmen find a home in the rotation by season’s end.
It’s no secret that Nick Saban put an emphasis on bringing in receivers with big-play capabilities in the 2012 recruiting class.
Black and fellow Florida native Amari Cooper (more on him later) were two of Alabama’s eight early enrollees that have been on campus since January.
Black showed a glimpse of his abilities during Alabama’s spring game—where he hauled in three passes for 61 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown reception.
The 5’11’, 178-pounder is a natural fit in the slot—and his quickness and ability to run precise routes should help him make an impact on the field in his first collegiate season.
White had a big game scoring two touchdowns against Vanderbilt last season.
Only Bell and senior tight end Michael Williams are returning players that caught more passes than White (14 receptions) last season.
White showcased his potential as a playmaker with a two-touchdown performance against Vanderbilt in the middle of the 2011 season.
While the concussion he suffered in an altercation in Tuscaloosa shortly after the A-Day game shouldn’t have any long-term effects, it certainly did not help his case to earn a starting nod this fall.
However, at this point, his experience last season and his ability to play either outside or in the slot bodes well for him to stay on the field for the Crimson Tide this season.
Cooper was one of the nation’s top prep wideouts in the class of 2012, and he wasted little time making an impression on Saban in his first taste of college football this past spring.
The Miami native was a consensus top 100 recruit nationally, and after being selected to the Under Armour All-American game, he showed why he was rated as one of the country’s top playmakers as a receiver and as a return man.
Considering the lack of big plays coming from the receiver unit a year ago, the 6’1”, 198-pound Cooper could be exactly what the Crimson Tide offense has been lacking since Julio Jones left for the NFL.
Norwood is hoping to build off a career best performance in last season's national title game.
On the surface, Norwood has been a player that has shown flashes over the course of his two years in Tuscaloosa thus far.
But he will enter his junior season coming off the high of having the best game of his career (four receptions for 78 yards) on the biggest possible stage (against LSU in the national title game).
Although he only recorded 11 receptions last season, his average of more than 17 yards per reception led the team—and his performance against a prolific LSU secondary validates the assumption that he is capable of having an expanded role for the Crimson Tide this season.
Jones developed into one of A.J. McCarron's favorite targets during the spring.
Even though Jones' freshman season only produced meager totals (three receptions for 49 yards), his biggest contribution came when he calmly stepped up to fill the shoes of an injured Maze as a return man in the national title game.
He carried that momentum over to spring practices by developing into one of quarterback A.J. McCarron’s most dependable weapons—and that duo carried their chemistry to the A-Day game when they hooked up for a 19-yard scoring strike (Jones finished the spring game with three receptions for 48 yards and a score).
Considering that the competition for the starting jobs were open entering the spring, Jones was able to make a significant push to separate himself from the pack—which should help him in his quest to lock down a starting nod entering the fall.
Bell enters the fall as the favorite to emerge as the Crimson Tide's top pass-catching threat this season.
Bell caught 17 passes for 255 yards and a pair of scores last season, which makes him the Crimson Tide’s leading returning receiver.
Whether that will be enough to make him the Crimson Tide’s No. 1 option this fall remains to be seen—but the 6’1”, 175-pound junior emerged into a player that Saban lauded for being the team’s most consistent playmaker this spring.
The competition will heat up again in August when fall camp rolls around, but Bell’s experience plus his strong play in the spring (he had five catches for 86 yards and a touchdown in the spring game) should give him an edge in the race to be the main weapon in the Crimson Tide’s passing attack this season.