How would the dynamic personalities of Saban and Kiffin fit together? Were Kiffin's struggles shortly before he got canned at USC indicative of his coaching ability? Can he bring back the magic?
So far, so good in spring practice.
A big reason why is Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper.
The 6'1", 202-pound rising junior has enjoyed his fair share of success over his first two seasons in T-town, but the best may be yet to come thanks to a clean bill of health and Kiffin's presence at the Capstone.
"So far this spring, he's been phenomenal in the offseason program as well as in the first three practices that we've had," Saban told AL.com's Michael Casagrande last week. "Obviously he's a guy that we want to get the ball to as many times as we can. Lane will do a really good job of getting the ball in the playmakers' hands."
|Amari Cooper Statistics By Season|
Cooper is one of those playmakers, and he's perfect for what Kiffin wants to do. He likes to open things up in the passing game, and that includes screen passes to physical receivers on the edge and deep routes designed to put stress on the opposing secondary.
Both of those are Cooper's strong suits.
As you can see from the touchdown from the 2013 Tennessee game above, Cooper gets the ball on a screen, reads his blocks, doesn't waste time getting upfield and runs away from the Vols secondary.
Remind you of anybody?
It should remind you of former USC Trojan wide receiver Marqise Lee, who caught 248 passes for 3,655 yards and 29 touchdowns. Cooper told Casagrande last week that the Alabama receivers have been watching film of Kiffin's former players at USC.
"Yeah, we look at it for concepts we need to learn for our offense here and we know what those guys did for him at USC at the wide receiver position," Cooper said.
If there's a Lee clone on Alabama's roster, it's Cooper. He makes quick decisions, has great hands and is a bona fide star on short and intermediate routes.
But Kiffin's offense isn't just West Coast, dink-and-dunk football. He lulls defenses to sleep with the shorter routes and then takes the top off of them.
As was the case with Lee, Cooper is the perfect man to stretch the field as well.
His size presents matchup problems for opposing defensive backs, he has tremendous hands and runs great routes downfield, which makes life easy for his quarterbacks.
In critical spots, Cooper proved through his first two seasons that he can be the go-to receiver for the Tide. He caught the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter of the 2012 SEC Championship Game, and got wide open early in the fourth quarter of the Iron Bowl for a 99-yard touchdown that gave the Tide the lead.
Cooper gives Kiffin jumping off point. A foundation. A base to build the entire Alabama offense off of.
He can do it all, and one year after dealing with a nagging foot injury that kept him from playing at 100 percent all season long, he could prove to be the most valuable player on the roster as the Tide transitions from Nussmeier to Kiffin.
Get your popcorn ready, because the marriage between Kiffin and Cooper will stabilize the offense during a quarterback transition year and vault Cooper into full-fledged superstar status.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All college statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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