Alabama wide receiver Christion Jones (22) celebrates with teammate Kenny Bell (7) after scoring a touchdown against Florida Atlantic. (AP photo by Butch Dill)
This is my story for today’s print editions:
TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — Before the season began, Alabama had enough solid wide receivers that Nick Saban moved incoming freshman athlete Eddie Williams to safety.
Williams could play safety, where the Tide might need help, and the team had enough depth at receiver anyway.
As it has turned out, however, Alabama has struggled with depth, with nearly every receiver in the playing rotation spending time on the sideline. Even so, the Crimson Tide (10-1) still ranks second nationally in passing efficiency as it prepares for Saturday’s game against Auburn (3-8).
“Injuries are one of those things that’s going to happen in this game,” Tide receiver Christion Jones said. “It’s a very physical game. But we fight through those things.”
Before the Crimson Tide played its first game, it lost promising freshman Chris Black for the year to a shoulder injury. During spring practice, he appeared just as good as fellow freshman Amari Cooper, who leads the team with 40 catches.
Cooper, by the way, missed most of the LSU game with an ankle issue. Senior Kevin Norwood (21 catches) has struggled with a leg issue since the third game of the season. Jones (21 catches) banged up his ankle against Missouri, although he said that didn’t affect him in future games.
Junior Kenny Bell (18 catches) has missed practice time in the last month with an ankle problem. Sophomore DeAndrew White (eight catches) hurt his knee in the fifth game of the year and needed season-ending surgery.
The two most productive receivers who haven’t been hurt this year? Freshmen Cyrus Jones and Marvin Shinn, who have four receptions each.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said that even if a receiver doesn’t miss a lot of game time, it hurts if he can’t go through practice or is limited.
“I think it’s really important for guys to be able to go out and work together, and have an anticipation and an expectation when you’ve got to make quick decisions, process information quickly, people have to be where you expect them to be,” he said.
When the season began, Alabama anticipated using White and Cooper at the X receiver position. Norwood and Bell worked at the Z position, and Christion Jones and Cyrus Jones in the slot position.
With White out, Shinn has filled in at X, but in reality, everybody essentially can play every position now.
“Everyone learns those different spots so that we won’t have to slow down and we can move on to what we’re trying to do in the game,” Christion Jones said.
He added that it’s extremely important if Alabama is trying to run its hurry-up offense, which Jones calls “fastballing.”
“If we’re fastballing you don’t have to switch just because you play one position the most,” he said. “We don’t do that. We just keep everyone moving and keep it going. Because if you do all that, the offense can get confusing. It slows down the tempo when we’re trying to fastball.”
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron said it would be easier if all the receivers played one position only. Different receivers may run a particular route with small differences.
Even so, he said he appreciates how his receivers have worked so hard to cover up any shortages when somebody is hurt.
“I can’t say enough about those guys,” McCarron said. “Old, young — they’ve all made plays for me all year long.”
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