In the years since Nick Saban has taken over at Alabama, he has consistently recruited the top high school athletes in the country, and talent is stock-piled at every position on the field.
The position where this is most evident in 2012 is the wide-receivers and tight ends. With all the talk of the Tide’s stable of running-backs, a proven quarterback, and a defense that simply reloads, the receivers may be Alabama’s best-kept secret.
Alabama loses an electrifying receiver with the departure of Marquis Maze, who led the team with 56 receptions for 627 yards in 2011. Maze was the go-to guy who had the ability to shift the momentum of a game and shut down opposing defensive backs. Alabama also loses veteran Darius Hanks, a tough over the middle receiver that was never afraid of the big hit. Hanks averaged over twelve yards per catch for the Tide.
While Alabama loses two smart and speedy receivers in Maze and Hanks, who were always able to pick up a first down, they combined for only two touchdowns all season. In terms of touchdown production, the Tide doesn’t lose much at all, which is cause for optimism.
Alabama’s receiving touchdown leaders during 2011’s BCS title run were Brad Smelley with four and Trent Richardson with three. AJ McCarron has hinted that the Crimson Tide will show more of a down field passing attack this year, but expect Alabama to have continued success throwing the flat route passes and screens to guys like Eddie Lacy, Michael Williams, and maybe even Dee Hart or T.J. Yeldon.
As far as downfield passing goes, Kenny Bell and DeAndrew White look to be McCarron’s deep threats. Each caught two touchdown passes last year and proved that they could be playmakers down the stretch. These guys are going to be important come November 3rd if LSU’s defensive backs live up to all the hype they are getting right now.
Two receivers that emerged toward the end of last year and look to contribute significantly to the offense are Christion Jones and Kevin Norwood. Jones will likely be returning kicks and punts, however he could be a Maze-style replacement on offense. He showed flashes of greatness last year averaging an impressive 16.3 yards per catch, yet only reeled in three receptions. Norwood led all receivers in the BCS championship game. What is more impressive, however, is the way he shut down Tyrann Mathieu play after play, and finally gave the Honey Badger something to be afraid of.
Alabama loses Brad Smelley but returns physical tight end Michael Williams. Williams was a big contributor in the 2011 campaign with two touchdowns, and with his size and speed he will continue to be an integral part of an offense that utilizes tight ends effectively.
Other tight ends to look for this season are Barrett Jones’ brother Harrison Jones, who gained game experience last year, Brian Vogler who at 6’7 is the tallest man on the roster, and Malcolm Facaine.
Expect Alabama to continue its run-first offensive philosophy that few SEC teams have been able to slow down or stop the last few years, but don’t be surprised when McCarron starts airing it out downfield. It’s likely this group of receivers won’t stay the Crimson Tide’s best kept secret for too long.
More 2012 Season Previews
- 2012 Alabama Crimson Tide Football Preview – Quarterback Edition
- 2012 Alabama Crimson Tide Football Preview – Offensive Line Edition