TUSCALOOSA — Like the defensive line, Alabama could realistically go six or seven deep at wide receiver.
Led by junior Amari Cooper, the Crimson Tide returns three of its top four receivers from last season.
The trio — Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones — comprises one of the nation’s top receiving cores.
At tight end, sophomore O.J. Howard has all the tools to be one of the country’s best tight ends.
New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and whomever wins the starting quarterback job will have a lot of toys to play with.
X — Amari Cooper (6-foot-1, 204 pounds, junior), Robert Foster (6-foot-3, 190 pounds, freshman), Cam Sims (6-foot-4, 204 pounds, freshman)
Y — Christion Jones (5-foot-11, 187 pounds, senior), Chris Black (5-foot-11, 185 pounds, sophomore), Parker Barrineau (6-foot, 184 pounds, junior)
Z — DeAndrew White (6-foot, 190 pounds, senior), Raheem Falkins (6-foot-4, 210 pounds, sophomore), ArDarius Stewart (6-foot, 193 pounds, freshman)
Brian Vogler (6-foot-7, 265 pounds, senior) and O.J. Howard (6-foot-6, 240 pounds, sophomore)
Cooper returns after leading the Tide in receiving during his first two seasons. After a stellar freshman campaign, injuries slowed his production as a sophomore in 2013. Now healthy, Cooper is one of the nation’s top receiving threats. White missed spring practice after having offseason toe surgery. After turning down the NFL, White returns for his final year hoping to leave his mark on the program. At the end of last season, White showed his versatility by lining up both outside and in the slot. Jones is a threat to score at receiver and in the return game. With White missing spring, Jones had the chance to line up more on the outside.
Vogler and Howard played an equal amount of time when both were healthy last season. Vogler is more of the blocking tight end, but showed he can be an option in the passing game against Mississippi State. Howard must take the next step as a blocker to become a more complete player. But as a receiver, Howard is built from the mold of New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, tall with soft hands and great speed.
Black is one of the backups who could see the field a good bit in 2014. With White sidelined, Black spent spring practice with the first team offense. In 2013, Black scored three touchdowns (two receiving, one rushing) on just nine touches. After enrolling late last summer, Foster was forced to redshirt. With a year in the system, Foster could see the field in certain packages. Many consider Foster the Tide’s second most talented receiver behind only Cooper. Falkins could fit the Kevin Norwood-type role, a long, possession receiver with a knack for moving the chains.
With Cooper likely going pro early and Jones and White leaving, this season becomes a bit of an audition for Foster, Black, Falkins, Sims and Stewart. Alabama will need all of these players to step up in 2015 and beyond, so each one must position themselves in a favorable light for the coaching staff if they hope to earn a starting spot in 2015.
Wide receiver Derek Kief (6-foot-5, 197 pounds) and tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) enrolled this summer. A junior college transfer, Flournoy-Smith will likely factor into the rotation this season.
“There’s not going to be a certain position, a certain place you’re going to be set in stone. Tight ends will be out wide, our wide receivers will be inside by the tight ends. Wide receivers in the backfield and running backs out wide. Coach Kiffin brings a lot to the table, as I said before. No one is stationary. Everyone is moving around. It’s going to be very exciting to get into the offense like we want to once the season comes around.”
— Christion Jones on how Lane Kiffin will use Alabama’s receivers.
Sports Writer Marq Burnett: On Twitter @Marq_Burnett.