Alabama football failed to duplicate in 2011 the numbers Julio Jones put up during his junior season in 2010 before he left the Capstone early for the NFL Draft. Jones led the Crimson Tide with 1,133 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns in 2010.
In 2011, Marquis Maze led Alabama in receiving with 627 yards and a touchdown. Alabama still doesn’t have that Julio Jones wideout in 2012, but just like last season, they probably won’t need it. Alabama doesn’t have a true No. 1 receiver, although one could emerge, but Alabama does have a bevy of talented options at receiver.
Alabama’s top four receivers in terms of yardage are gone from last season. Along with running back Trent Richardson, gone are Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks and H-back Brad Smelley. Alabama has the talent to replace their production, but it will be interesting to see who steps up for the Tide in 2012.
At wide receiver, the top returning pass catcher is junior Kenny Bell. Bell caught 17 passes for 255 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 2011. Bell may not have No. 1 receiver ability, but it seems like a safe bet that he will be the Tide’s top option at wide receiver in 2012.
After Bell, there is a logjam of receivers looking to get on the field. Sophomore Christion Jones has shown flashes of potential during the Spring and the Fall, and will almost certainly be the Tide’s starting return man. Along with that, Jones looks to have a meaningful role in the offense this season. Jones didn’t see a lot of action as a receiver in 2011, catching just 3 passes for 49 yards.
Junior Kevin Norwood looks to build upon his outstanding performance against LSU in the BCS Championship Game. He caught 11 passes for 190 yards last season, with 78 of those yards and 4 catches coming when it mattered most in New Orleans. If Norwood can string together a full season like he played against the Bayou Bengals, then he will have a major role in the Tide’s offense this season.
Sophomore DeAndrew White certainly has the ability to be a meaningful contributor for the Crimson Tide, but he has to prove to be more consistent if he wants to stay on the field. White started the season as Alabama’s No. 2 wide receiver behind Maze while Darius Hanks served a two-game suspension. White ended the season buried on the depth chart, and he had no receptions in the last three games of the season.
For the year, White caught 14 passes for 151 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Both of this touchdown receptions came against Vanderbilt, with one of them an absolute circus catch in the back of the end zone. If White can prove to be consistent, he will see a lot of playing time this year. If not, look for him to get buried on the depth chart once again.
True freshmen Amari Cooper and Chris Black were looking at having roles in the offense this season as well. For Cooper, that is still the case. Unfortunately for Black, he had to have surgery on his shoulder and is out 3-4 months. The injury will cost Black any real opportunity he may have had at meaningful playing time in 2012.
As for Cooper, the former four-star receiver out of Miami will have a role in the Crimson Tide’s offense this season, and could conceivably be one of the top three receivers. He impressed in the scrimmage on Saturday with 52 yards on 3 catches and a touchdown.
Another guy to watch out for is freshman Cyrus Jones out of Baltimore, Maryland. Jones didn’t enroll early, so it will be tough for him to find a way to contribute right away, but he is extremely talented. Jones seems like a future big-time playmaker for the Crimson Tide, but it may not be this season.
Moving over to tight end, the Crimson Tide have used a two tight end approach over the last few seasons with one traditional tight end and an H-back.
Michael Williams returns for his senior season at tight end. He had 16 receptions for 191 yards and 2 touchdowns last season. At 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, Williams is more of a blocking tight end, but his size still makes him a big threat in the passing game.
One of the biggest voids Alabama must fill on their offense this season is left by Brad Smelley at H-back. Smelley was Alabama’s 2nd leading receiver last season with 356 yards on 34 catches. Seventeen of Smelley’s receptions came during the last three games of the season.
Harrison Jones and Brian Vogler seemed to have the inside track at the job after the spring, but Nick Saban and company have been experimenting with Jalston Fowler at the H-back position. Fowler had 3 catches for 40 yards in the scrimmage on Saturday. Whether this is just an experiment, or a sign of things to come in 2012 for Fowler is yet to be seen.
New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier could be looking at running an I-formation at times this season with Fowler lined up at fullback. Fowler could split time at H-back and running back this year as well. Regardless of where he lines up, the bruising junior will have a big impact on Alabama’s offense this season.
Alabama still doesn’t have a Julio Jones on the roster. But just like the 2011 season, the Crimson Tide won’t need one. Alabama has plenty of depth at receiver, and it will be interesting to see which guys perform the best and earn meaningful snaps in 2012.
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