Wide receiver blocking turns screen passes into big plays for Alabama football

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports
Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, center, celebrates with teammates DeVonta Smith, left, and John Metchie III, right, after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Missouri, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

Jaylen Waddle entered the offseason as the best punt returner in the nation. He was also effective as a wide receiver in 2019 in limited opportunities, taking his 33 catches for an average of 16.97 yards, which ranked fifth in the SEC among qualified receivers.

All that was left for Waddle to perfect was his blocking. In Steve Sarkisian’s offense, wide receiver blocking is much more than a pet project.

Just as it was all of last season, Alabama was effective –and at times explosive – on screen passes that feature wide receivers as lead blockers in the 2020 season opener: UA completed all six of such screens against Missouri for 50 yards, averaging more than 8 yards per play on passes that are designed to be caught behind the line of scrimmage.

Alabama’s wide receiver corps remains elusive, playing a role in screen success, but more often than not those receivers have plenty of room to work once they make the catch.

“I just worked on getting my hands inside and making solid contact with defenders,” Waddle said. “I think that was one area that I really needed to improve on as far as last season.”

DeVonta Smith benefitted more than most from the screens. Four of Smith’s eight catches and 29 of his 89 yards came on screen passes, with Waddle clearing the way on all of them and joined by John Metchie III on three of the four.

The other two screens went to Waddle, who gained 8 and 13 yards on the plays. Smith was a lead blocker for both of them, with Metchie joining Smith to block for the 13-yard gain and tight end Miller Forristall – split wide as a slot receiver for the play – helped block for the 8-yard gain.

The screen usage is consistent with numbers from last year, when UA ran seven and five such plays in its first two SEC games last year against South Carolina and Ole Miss, respectively.

Alabama also had success with it against Texas A&M last year: its first touchdown came on a bubble screen that Waddle took for 31 yards.

“Maybe people are so focused on our offensive line, maybe our backs are that good that maybe we will get some singled-up coverage on the outside so the run game can set up some of the pass game stuff,” Sarkisian said.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson