With the loss of Alabama wide receiver Kenny Bell to a broken leg in last Saturday’s 49-0 blowout victory over Auburn in the Iron Bowl, the Crimson Tide must figure out how they will replace their second-leading receiver this week in preparation for Saturday afternoon’s SEC Championship game against Georgia.
There are really two options: simply having the remaining healthy and experienced receivers — Amari Cooper, Kevin Norwood, and Christion Jones — step up to fill the void; and playing Chris Black.
Black is a true freshman from Jacksonville, Fla., who has yet to play a down this season due to a shoulder injury sustained in a practice back in August. He returned to practice for the first time following Alabama’s win at LSU on Nov. 3, but has been limited to non-contact drills with no plans to play him now this late into the season.
That changed this week after the loss of Bell when head coach Nick Saban said in his SEC Championship coaches teleconference on Sunday that Black “has been cleared medically to maybe come back and play” and that the initial plans to redshirt him this season would be “revisited.”
Black, a four-star recruit and the No. 2 overall wide receiver prospect in his class according to ESPNU, was expected to see a significant amount of playing time this season had he been healthy. In Alabama’s A-Day game this past spring, Black caught three passes for 61 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown.
Black went through individual drills on Monday during the media viewing period of practice, and looked to be comfortable going through his reps.
Like Bell, Black is a playmaker-type receiver who can be a deep-ball threat — the kind of plays you need to break open a defense, especially in big games like this Saturday’s and the national championship that may follow.
With the exception of Cooper, the Tide lack that deep-ball threat among their remaining healthy receivers, having already lost another deep-ball threat for the season in DeAndrew White back in September.
“That’s always a difficult circumstance but we have some other really good players who have played consistently for us this year,” Saban said. “We’re going to try to put them in the best position where they have the best opportunity to utilize the skills they have and hopefully make some plays for us. “AJ [McCarron] has done a nice job of getting the ball to the right guy. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue to do that.”
Cooper, also a true freshman, has emerged as the Tide’s No. 1 receiver as the season has progressed, but he cannot be expected to carry the load on his own as he is likely a point of focus for the Georgia defense this week.