TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There were a lot of uncertainties for Alabama heading into the season, but a few things looked to be set in stone.
C.J. Mosley and AJ McCarron would be the unquestioned leaders on both sides of the football. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would be a rock in the secondary. And T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper would lead Alabama as playmakers on offense.
All of those things have turned out to be true, except for one: Cooper.
Cooper just hasn't been the game-breaker he was during a stellar freshman year that saw him tally 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns on 59 receptions and earn Freshman All-America honors.
He started in the Crimson Tide's season opener against Virginia Tech but hasn't started since. In the Georgia State game, 15 different receivers caught passes, including walk-ons Parker Barrineau and Ty Reed, but Cooper didn't have a catch.
|Colorado State||Did not play||--||--|
So what's wrong with Cooper? Is there anything wrong?
For one, he's been dealing with nagging injuries.
"It's not painful, but I can feel it," Cooper said before the Virginia Tech game, according to D.C. Reeves of The Tuscaloosa News. "It's something I can play through."
He sat out the Colorado State game with a toe injury.
"(Cooper) is a hard worker, a guy who wants to be good and do well," Alabama coach Nick Saban said during the Oct. 9 SEC coaches teleconference, according to Reeves. "I think it's very frustrating when you have something that's nagging you that you can't do things on a consistent basis like you'd like to do them."
He is also on a depth chart loaded with talented wide receivers. Kevin Norwood, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones have routinely been the starters in three-wide receiver sets. Kenny Bell and Chris Black have also been steady contributors.
So when Cooper starts struggling, he is replaced by another receiver and has to work his way back into the rotation.
"I think it’s very, very important that all of our players on offense have a role and are productive. We’re fortunate to have really five or six really good receivers that are all capable of making plays in a game," Saban said last Monday. "Amari, finally back, ready to go, played fast and was very productive in the [Kentucky] game. I think that’s important to us. I think we have to have roles for all those guys in the game so that they can be productive."
All signs point to Cooper steadily getting back into his freshman-year form. He had his best game of the season statistically last week against Arkansas, finding the end zone for the first time all year.
Could this be the week he finally has a monster game?
Is this the week Amari Cooper has a breakout game?
Last year against Tennessee, Cooper went for 162 yards and two touchdowns in Knoxville. Tennessee's pass defense is a lukewarm 65th in the country this year, so the Crimson Tide could take advantage.
Alabama won't force it. It is on a roll in its SEC schedule, and the Tennessee game will serve as a final tuneup before a monster game against LSU in two weeks.
The Crimson Tide won't force the ball to Cooper by any means, but they wouldn't mind him finally having a breakout game either.