TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When it comes to the Alabama receiving corps, the Crimson Tide has what could be called an embarrassment of riches.
It means having options or resources that one knows what to do with, and in this case it’s not an exaggeration. For example, in the spring game, A-Day, the side that featured the second-team offense included freshman All-American Jaylen Waddle.
The other side had the winner of the Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in college football, the speedster who has been clocked more than once as running 23 mph in full pads, and the player who caught the game-winning touchdown in the National Championship Game two seasons ago.
Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith are a trio unlike any in college football, and then there’s Waddle, who is just as fast as Ruggs. The two finally raced during the offseason and it was a photo finish with Ruggs barely winning.
“All of the receivers are good, all of them run good routes and all of them are fast,” cornerback Trevon Diggs said. “But Henry, he’s super fast. If you don’t touch him and you don’t get hands on him, he’s going to run right by you, so I have to make sure I put hands on him. I have to make sure I touch him at the line a little bit. But if you give him a free release and he’s running deep, it’s hard to catch him.”
All four receivers had at least 42 receptions, and averaged at least 16 yards per catch last season. They all block downfield as well, which helps make everyone a threat to go the distance on any reception.
Jeudy led the group with 68 catches for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns. Already being hailed as being as one of the top prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft, should he leave early as most expect, fans will mention his name alongside Julio Jones, Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley as being among the Crimson Tide’s best at the position.
Factor in the other three standouts and calling them an elite group might not be enough. It might be the best in Crimson Tide history.
The four don't have to stand on their own, either.
Among those vying for more playing time include 6-foot-6 redshirt sophomore Tyrell Shavers and redshirt freshman Xavier Williams, but two other players had strong springs and will be among those to watch:
Early enrollee John Metchie won the most valuable player award on A-Day, the Crimson Tide’s spring game. The consensus 4-star talent spent most of his life in Canada before attending St. James School in Hagerstown, Md., and then transferring to The Peddie School for his final year of high school. He tallied more than 1,300 rushing yards, 2,500 receiving yards and 42 touchdowns across his four seasons at St. James.
“It’s exciting to see someone come in straight out of high school like that, and adapt this quick, be able to read the playbook and things like that,” Smith said. “With Shavers, it was just seeing that if you keep working your time will come. He’s been working and everyone’s been working, him and Metchie, all the receivers, everyone’s been working.
“There’s more depth. “
Slade Bolden is so versatile that he helped out the scout team prepare for dual-threat quarterbacks and the option last season. He was a quarterback at West Monroe High in Louisiana, throwing for 1,622 yards and rushing for 1,460 as a senior.
At 5-11, 191 pounds, he’s stockier than your typical wide receiver. Scrappy too.
“Xavier Williams has made a lot of progress,” Saban said. “I think that John Methcie has showed flashes of doing things really really well. I think Slade Bolden has made some plays. Shavers is better. So I feel much better about the depth at that position than in the past. I think that's a good thing.”
Meanwhile, the offensive position that took the biggest hit from offseason departures was tight end, where Alabama lost both starters, co-captain Hale Hentges and big-time receiving threat Irv Smith Jr. It’s not like it can simply plug someone to replace their experience or pass-catching ability.
As the returning player with the most game played and receptions, junior Miller Forristall is the player Alabama will lean on the most especially with Kedrick James suspended for the first month of the season after violating an NCAA rule prior to the College Football Playoff.
At 6-5, 260 pounds, James is physically elite, and could be a breakout candidate once he gets on the field.
“Kedrick is one of the freakiest guys on the team as far as physical prowess goes,” Forristall said last August. “I mean he’s huge and he can run and he can jump, and I’ve seen him throw a ball like 65 yards standing still. He is athletically, like, tremendously talented, and he’s got huge potential.”
The tight end to watch, though, may be Carmeon Latu. At 6-5, 247, the redshirt freshman linebacker gave playing tight end a shot during the spring and end up sticking.
“Miller Forristall had a good spring,” Saban said. “Really shown a lot of leadership in what he does. Cameron Latu has made a lot of progress at the position and I certainly think could develop into being a pretty good player there. Major Tennison was having a good spring before he had an injury. Kedrick James has been out there practicing and he’s got a chance to make a contribution.”
This is the second story in a summer series previewing the 2019 Crimson Tide: