Alabama 2012: Talent Must Outweigh Inexperience at Wide Receiver
Answer: Marquis Maze, Brad Smelley, Trent Richardson and Darius Hanks.
Question: Who were Alabama's top four receivers in 2011?
Unfortunately for the Crimson Tide, all four of these fine young men are no longer active members of the Alabama football program. After accounting for 145 catches and 1,649 yards last fall, 60 percent of Alabama's receiving totals from 2011 are gone.
Offensively, Alabama should do just fine in 2012. They have what is arguably the best offensive line in the nation. The well-seasoned beasts up front should be able to provide deep and wide running lanes for a foursome of qualified running backs that are likely to see regular action this fall. They will also provide solid protection for junior quarterback A.J. McCarron, who proved to his detractors how qualified he is to lead the Tide in January's BCS title game thumping of LSU.
The only legitimate concern 'Bama has on the offensive side of the ball is at wide receiver. It's a concern that already has some members of the Tide nation finding it difficult to sleep at night.
With a whopping 17 catches for 255 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 2011, Junior Kenny Bell is, statistically, the most experienced of Alabama's returning wideouts. To date, Bell is probably best known for his 42-yard touchdown catch that came unexpectedly via flea-flicker in last season's Iron Bowl. He has both size and speed, but with only 19 total receptions in his Alabama career, counting on Bell to be the go-to guy is an iffy proposition at best.
Junior Kevin Norwood (62" 195 lbs.) is the biggest of the returning Alabama receivers. He began to really make a name for himself at the Capstone after his four catches and 78 yards in relief of an injured Maze in the January title game.
Like Bell, though, Norwood has never been forced to be the leader. He has only 14 total catches and one score in his collegiate career. He is a fighter, however, and does not like to go down on the first hit. Still, with so little experience, who really knows if McCarron can truly depend on him?
Following these two, sophomores DeAndrew White and Christion Jones are the only returnees with any significant experience, but they only combined for 17 catches themselves.
There is some help on the way from a couple of newcomers, though. Incoming freshmen and early enrollees Chris Black (Jacksonville, FL) and Amari Cooper (Miami, FL) were both ranked nationally by Rivals as top 10 receivers in the 2012 class. Black has blazing speed and gave 'Bama fans a taste of this with three catches for 61 yards and a score in April's spring scrimmage game. Cooper has better size and great hands to go with it.
Both of these two are expected to see field time right away, but again their potential is exactly that and they have yet to prove anything at an SEC level.
Running back Eddie Lacy had 11 catches for 131 yards last season and has proven himself to be able to catch balls out of the backfield. Alabama will need its other backs to do so as well this season.
At tight end, Alabama brings back bruising senior Michael Williams, who at 6'6", 269 pounds., caught 16 passes for just under 200 yards and a pair of scores in 2011. As much as coach Nick Saban likes to use his ends, Williams is sure to carry a heavy load when play resumes in September.
At the end of the day (and the beginning of practice), Alabama has its fair share of talent at wide receiver. With the experienced and proven McCarron leading the charge, Saban and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will surely put these kids in positions that they will be able to succeed in. Look for the ball to be thrown often to running backs early on as well as numerous roll-outs and play-action passes to help the receivers get better looks at the ball.
Nonetheless, with their dominating offensive line, experienced quarterback and talented rotation of running backs, Alabama will have the luxury of bringing these wide receivers along at a speed that they are comfortable with. And soon enough, their talent will indeed outweigh their inexperience.
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