This is the third installment in a seven-part series looking ahead to the start of Alabama’s fall camp football practice. We continue with a breakdown of the wide receivers/tight ends.
Fresh with a new position coach in Mike Locksley, who spent last season as an offensive analyst, the wide receivers are looking for a special season. Three of the top four targets from last season — ArDarius Stewart, O.J. Howard and Gehrig Dieter — are gone but junior Calvin Ridley returns. It will, however be a new-look unit this season with some new names to get accustomed to. Outside of Howard, the entire tight end unit returns.
Ridley had a solid season in 2016, catching 72 passes for 769 yards and seven touchdowns, but perhaps his best attribute went unused. With Jalen Hurts expected to take the next step, Ridley’s deep-route ability should come back into play. The talented receiver hopes to put numbers similar to his freshman season when he hauled in 89 receptions for 1,045 yards. Stewart is gone but Robert Foster could have a role, something said UA head coach Nick Saban said the needs from the redshirt senior. Cam Sims is another experienced receiver that can show a bevy of newcomers the ropes.
Those newcomers include Jerry Jeudy, who had his coming-out party at A-Day when he made several big plays and showed that he will be need to be accounted for by opposing defenses in 2017. Jeudy continues the strong play by South Florida receivers at Alabama, beginning with Amari Cooper and continued by Calvin Ridley. Jeudy looks to be in the same mold. Henry Ruggs is a speed merchant, who will be difficult for any defensive back to handle. Devonta Smith and Tyrell Shavers are also talented freshmen.
Howard is gone. And while it’s fun to hypothesize what new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll could’ve done with Howard, he’s also got some talented guys to work with. That list starts with sophomore Miller Forristall, who earned plenty of playing time as a freshman. He played in all 15 games and caught five passes. Expect that total to increase this season. Another young player in which the coaching staff is excited is Irv Smith. The 6-foot-4, 246-pound sophomore could be a mismatch player given the chance. Hale Hentges is the veteran of the group. Major Tennison is a big-bodied freshman to watch. The other freshman of the group is Kedrick James, but he might move around as a experimental player during fall camp.
This is a talented, dangerous group of offensive weapons for Hurts to throw to and for which Daboll to scheme. There is an expectation of more balance in this year’s offense and the wide receivers/tight ends are a big reason for that. Hurts’ ability to capitalize on his weapons are key. More balance means more plays made in the passing game.