Sophomore WR Amari Cooper enters 2013 as one of the nation's most electric playmakers at receiver.
Throughout the Alabama football program’s illustrious history, the team’s identity has always been rooted in having a strong defense and a powerful running game.
Those two elements should still be strong for the 2013 version of Nick Saban’s squad. However, they also boast a collection of talented receivers and a fifth-year gunslinger at quarterback who could fill the air with more passes this fall.
Senior quarterback A.J. McCarron returns along with the team’s top five wideouts from 2012, plus rising sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon is ready to bust loose in the feature back role that ushered Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy into stardom.
Sophomore wideout Amari Cooper is the Tide’s best pass-catcher since Julio Jones, and he has plenty of help flanking him.
The combination of rising young talent (receiver Chris Black and tight end O.J. Howard), experienced playmakers (receivers Kevin Norwood, Kenny Bell and Christion Jones) and some talented incoming freshman skill players (running back Derrick Henry and receiver Raheem Falkins) gives offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier a plethora of options from his playbook.
Still, some variables could shake up which players take on bigger roles this fall. Injuries to players like Norwood and Henry, plus newly mended receivers Bell and DeAndrew White may shake up the rotations a bit.
Talented newcomers such as Black and Howard—plus a trio of incoming running backs—are ready to fight for a spot in the rotation.
But Yeldon and Cooper figure to be the team’s top two skill players in crunch time.
With so many talented options to choose from, which players will step up to emerge as McCarron’s top weapons in the offense this season?
Here are Alabama’s six best offensive weapons entering the 2013 season.
First off, a little bit of an acknowledgement that this list will offer a few "cheat" picks simply because of the injury situation and the fact that some players fill similar roles.
But the first "cheat" pick features on a pair of newcomers in redshirt freshman receiver Chris Black and true freshman tight end O.J. Howard.
Black is fully healed from the shoulder injury that kept him from contributing last season, and Howard has already made an impression, despite coming on campus a few months ago (h/t Zac Ellis, Sports Illustrated).
Black’s ability to contribute at receiver either in the slot or on the outside will help him find the field in a crowded receiver rotation that could be amongst the best pass-catching units Saban has ever fielded.
Howard is a pass-catching tight end who can make an impact at a position that has mostly been reserved for blockers in the Tide’s attack.
DeAndrew White has bounced back nicely from the torn ACL that ended his 2012 season, while Jones experimented with playing corner in the spring.
Both players have shown spurts of productivity during their careers, but both could once again find themselves victims of the logjam at receiver.
Jones was the team’s most effective slot receiver (listed as the H on the depth chart) last season, but assuming the rash of injuries that hit the position a year ago doesn’t repeat itself, he could struggle to match the 27 receptions he accumulated a year ago.
White, who has 22 career receptions to his credit, gives Alabama a solid option on the outside to backup Cooper.
Last year, Yeldon emerged as one of the team’s top playmakers, despite being an understudy to Lacy.
Sophomore Kenyan Drake is currently slated to be the backup to Yeldon, but with four talented true freshmen breathing down his neck, it’s unclear which back could ultimately occupy this spot.
Henry—the only true freshman back to enroll early—was primed to make a run at the backup spot, but a broken fibula suffered in the spring will sideline him until at least fall camp.
Dee Hart remains another option in the backfield as do incoming freshmen Altee Tenpenny, Alvin Kamara and Tyren Jones.
Regardless of which back emerges to take this spot, Alabama’s strength as a power running team and Saban’s history of rotating backs gives the player who wins this job a strong chance to become one of the team’s biggest weapons this season.
Seniors Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood are experienced targets whom McCarron has a strong comfort level with.
Both players are recovering from injuries, with Bell—who suffered a broken leg last year—further along than Norwood (toe surgery).
Bell’s role as a true deep threat and Norwood’s tendency to come up large in the team’s biggest games are strong indicators that both players are solid bets to remain integral parts of the receiver rotation.
After ending the 2012 season by topping the 100-yard receiving mark in four of the Tide’s last five games, Cooper heads into 2013 as one of the most electric playmakers in the country.
Cooper racked up 58 receptions for 999 yards and 11 touchdowns as a true freshman. With McCarron returning, don’t expect a sophomore slump from the Miami native in 2013.
Although opposing defenses will key in on him more this season, the return of players like White, Jones, Bell and Yeldon ensures that teams have to do it on a selective basis.
Although he’s technically No. 2 on this list, this is more of a 1A and 1B type of ranking.
All of the targets listed above give the Tide’s aerial attack some serious firepower, but Yeldon is most likely to be the engine to the offense this fall.
With Lacy off to the NFL and potential backup Henry nursing an injury, Yeldon is the clear-cut option as the Tide’s top ball-carrier.
The 6’2”, 218-pound sophomore rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and despite Alabama breaking in three new starters on the offensive line, those totals should rise in 2013.
As his game-winning reception against LSU last year showed, he’s capable of expanding his role as a receiver this season and matching Lacy’s reception total (22) from last season.
Alabama’s offense will be loaded this season, but on a team full of skill talent, expect Yeldon to be the team’s most productive weapon this fall.