Alabama's receivers last season consisted of Amari Cooper and his supporting cast.
It isn't turning out that way this year.
With Cooper hobbled by foot and toe injuries, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has turned to complementary veterans Kevin Norwood, Kenny Bell, Christion Jones and DeAndrew White. In last week's 45-3 rout of Georgia State, redshirt freshman Chris Black led the top-ranked Tide with six catches for 54 yards.
"We have guys who are really good at the roles we want them to play," Saban said this week. "We have enough speed guys and vertical guys and slot guys and tough guys who are good blockers. We have some guys who are really good possession catchers that you can count on in critical situations to get open. We have guys who are fast and vertical and can beat you deep and good slot guys who are catch-and-run-with-it guys.
"Sometimes you can have really good receivers, but if they all do the same thing -- it's almost like a basketball team. You can't have all point guards, and you can't have all centers."
The Crimson Tide enter Saturday night's game at Kentucky without a receiver ranked among the Southeastern Conference's top 15 in yards per game. Jones is tied for 13th in the league with four catches a contest.
It was Jones who erupted in the 35-10 opening win over Virginia Tech, when the 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior from Adamsville, Ala., had a punt return for a touchdown, a kickoff return for a touchdown and a 38-yard scoring reception from AJ McCarron. He has 20 receptions this season for 232 yards and two touchdowns.
"Christion is a guy who could be a running back or a really good, quick slot receiver and a hard guy to cover in that scenario," Saban said. "He's a really good catch-it-and-run-it guy, and he's a good kick returner. He has a lot of positive attributes that are a little different from some of the other guys."
White is next for the Tide with 15 catches for 212 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-foot, 190-pounder from Houston may have snagged Alabama's best highlight catch with his one-handed touchdown grab last Saturday.
"I held on as tight as I could," White told reporters afterward. "It was a pretty good catch. I can't complain."
Saban considers White an "explosive" player and points out how well he performed last season before getting hurt. White had a 51-yard touchdown catch in last year's opener against Michigan and made five starts before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Ole Miss.
Norwood, a 6-2, 195-pound senior from D'iberville, Miss., had stellar showings in each of the last two BCS title games. He has 12 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown this season.
"Kevin is a very consistent player," Saban said. "He practices the same all the time, and I think that's really important in terms of developing a great chemistry with the quarterback. He's one of those guys that you always know what you're going to get, and in the critical time of the game he's going to do it exactly like he's always done it."
Bell, a 6-1, 180-pound senior from Rayville, La., actually quit the team after the opener for personal reasons but soon returned and caught a 51-yard touchdown pass in the second game at Texas A&M.
Every experienced Alabama receiver can point to a positive moment this season with the exception of Cooper, who last season became the first Alabama freshman with 1,000 yards catching. The 6-1, 202-pounder from Miami has just nine catches for 100 yards this year, having played sparingly against Georgia State and sitting out the third game against Colorado State.
"Amari is a hard-working guy who won the most points on all of his tests in the summer conditioning program," Saban said, "so he's a hard worker who really, really wants to do well. I think it's very frustrating when you have something that's nagging you to where you can't really do things on a consistent basis.
"We haven't played him as much lately, and I do think he's getting healthy. Hopefully, if we don't have a setback, he'll be able to continue to progress and do a good job."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...