Jaylen Waddle ready for bigger, different role in Alabama football's offense
Jaylen Waddle had to catch lightning in a bottle with every touch in 2019. He was a wide receiver behind two first-round draft picks and two Biletnikoff Award semifinalists, making receptions few and far between. He was by far the nation’s best returner, but he only got 20 chances to return a punt and five to return a kick.
All in all, Waddle averaged 20.8 yards per touch but only got the ball 4.07 times per game. In Waddle’s case, playing more equates to playing differently.
As Waddle is poised to step into a bigger role in Alabama’s offense this fall, he had to take on some new responsibilities that come with a more all-encompassing role, a reality he has embraced.
“I think he’s excited about the challenge and the opportunity of being an every-down player in our offense and not just a specialty player,” Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said.
As a wide receiver, Waddle being on the field more often means he’s going to be targeted and running routes on fewer of his snaps, leaving him to block for the run. Waddle said he’s been working on hand placement in blocking.
There is also the prospect of playing multiple wide receiver positions, given being on the field for more than specialized snaps, and the potential need to do so should COVID-19 quarantines impact depth in the position group. Waddle said the way UA’s offense is structured makes it easier for wide receivers to move among wide receiver positions.
“I think we don’t try to learn a certain position. We try to learn a concept, so you’re not just out there — you don’t really know where you’re going to be based on the concepts,” Waddle said. “You’ve got to learn every concept. We try to learn that way.”
It would stand to reason Waddle has some adjusting to do as a returner, as well.
It’s easy to make the case for Waddle as the nation’s best return man last season. He was one of just two players last year to return both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown; He also became the first player since 2014 to amass at least five punt returns of more than 40 yards, and his 487 punt return yards was the most by any FBS player since 2013.
He is now proven as the kind of player who some kicking units would rather avoid, or at the very least present with different kicks to limit return potential. Waddle prepares for alternative kicks, but doesn’t believe he’ll be completely avoided as a returner.
“Well, you gotta expect alternative kicks and different kinds of kicks, but I do expect teams to kick it to me, just based on field position and not trying to give up too much field position, so you kind of have to kick it,” Waddle said.
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