Much of the inconsistency of the 2011 Alabama offense has been blamed on the youth of their starting quarterback, A.J. McCarron. While this explanation has some validity, it's not been the only issue the Tide are facing.
The wide receiving unit for Alabama has fallen short of the expectation that many had placed on them. As it turns out, Julio Jones was a bigger part of the offense than most realized. Without Jones, the Tide do not have a legit deep threat on the roster.
Moreover, there has been a great inconsistency among the group as a whole. However, there's hope on the horizon for 2012. The Tide have received commitments from four players who could contribute at wide receiver as early as next season.
In this article, I will break down those four players in greater detail and give my predictions of what their contributions will be in their freshman season.
Casey Gladney was plucked right out of the University of South Carolina's backyard. The senior receiver is from Columbia, SC, and has already hauled in over 1,000 yards this season.
Gladney could be a contributor for the Crimson Tide as early as his freshman season. However, he might never step on campus as well. The last I had read, Gladney was reportedly struggling with academic issues. However, I have not seen any updates since that time.
Assuming that his grades have improved, it will be impossible to keep him off of the field as a freshman. He has very good speed (4.45), but his route running makes him even faster. He's most likely to contribute in the short-to-intermediate routes early on.
Gladney is able to dissect a defense like a skilled surgeon. When he steps to the line, he reads the defense similar to a quarterback and then chooses his spot. He has great hands and will make most catches.
Like most freshmen, he needs to add some muscle but has the illusiveness to turn a seven-yard catch into a 12-yard catch. Even at the collegiate level, he's likely to make the first defender miss but does not have the strength yet to break multiple tackles.
If Gladney’s grades are in order, he will play as a true freshman. I do not think that he will start this season but should see time increase as the season goes on. He could also be used on special teams early on. I really believe the Gamecocks missed out on a solid SEC contributor in their own backyard.
The state of Florida has once again been kind to the Crimson Tide. One of Alabama’s top Florida recruits this season is Amari Cooper. Cooper is the wild card of this receiving group. He has never put up monster numbers but has the tools to do so. His scholarship offers were based more upon the skills he displayed in camps than the numbers he has put up on the field.
At 6’2" and 180 pounds, Cooper has good height but needs to add some bulk. As I watched video of him, it was easy to see he is a great route runner that can make any difficult catch look simplistic.
He has great acceleration in and out of his routes and gets great separation from the defensive back on the deep routes. Nine times out of 10, if you put the ball within reach of Cooper, he's going to make the catch,
However, he rarely gets yards after the catch. At the high school level, he can and does go across the middle for big catches, but as I stated above, needs more muscle to translate this talent to the college level.
If Duron Carter is able to play for the Tide this season, I think Cooper will redshirt. Both players would be used as a possession receiver. Cooper has a higher ceiling than Carter because of his ability to create separation but will need to get stronger before he's an every-down receiver.
Alabama went into Jacksonville, Florida, and stole a gem of a receiver for this season's recruiting class in 4-star wide receiver Chris Black. Black is only 6’0" tall and 175 pounds, but he's one of the top athletes in the 2011 class.
ESPN ranks Black as the No. 2 wide receiver in the nation, and Scout ranks him No. 13. Black has good speed (4.54) but better acceleration. He's able to come off the line and get past defensive backs within just a few yards.
What makes Black special is ability to read defenses and make moves after he catches the football. He reminds me of what Barry Sanders would have looked like as a wide receiver.
There's not a catch that he cannot make. He has great hands and has great body control in the air.
Black is small and will have to learn how to get off the line without being jammed at the college level. He has a 35-inch vertical which helps him to negate height issues when the ball is in the air.
His ability to stop and start is nothing short of amazing. This will make him a threat on special teams immediately even if he needs time to develop more strength.
Black is going to play as a true freshman because of his superior athleticism. Of current wide receivers in the SEC, he reminds me of Joe Adams from Arkansas the most. If Dee Hart does not return to the Tide next season, Black is their best option on special teams.
He's not going to put up amazing numbers at receiver in his first season, but the 400-yard mark is not out of the question.
I recently wrote an article entitled, "Is Eddie Williams the Answer for the Departed Julio Jones." This slide will cover many excerpts from that article. Some believe that Williams will remain at safety. However, many people are now taking my line of thought. In fact, after I wrote the article on Williams being better at wide receiver, ESPN moved him from safety to athlete and gave him an additional star. He's now a 5-star athlete.
Williams is not a world-class sprinter by any means, but he runs a respectable 4.6 40-yard dash. However, that can be very deceiving. Some athletes run fast, and other athletes play fast. The reason he plays much faster than he runs is because he has quick feet and runs crisp routs.
His quick feet allow him to come off the line fast, and he has the best change of direction skills I have seen of any receiver in this class thus far.
He has the ability to go from second gear and fourth gear in less than five yards. This is what separated him from other receivers. Once the ball is in the air, he's like a center fielder in baseball running down a pop fly.
Once he leaves his feet for a reception, the battle is won. He has great body control and a 32.5-inch vertical leap. Once he catches the football, no one man is going to bring him down. He's very Julio Jones like with his yards after contact.
The way he enjoys contact, I have no doubt he will be a great blocking receiver. I am not saying he will have the success that Jones had, but he has the same qualities and demeanor.