15 August 2008
Mike McCoy was very productive in the scrimmage, but really is kind of surfacing as a leader of the young receiver group, which I think is very important to that group. It's always good to see guys adding leadership, affecting other people in a positive way.That, combined with the fact the he is Bama’s leading returning receiver tells me that he is the most likely candidate to become the first option when Bama absolutely has to have a play. Being the most likely candidate doesn’t mean he’ll be the guy, though. I hate to be one of those people that jump on the bandwagon of the “next big thing.” The hype machine for young players can get out of control very quickly, and I generally don’t like to be a part of it. But, folks, Julio Jones is the real deal. Watching him on tape does not do him justice. The pure fluidity of motion, and effortlessness with which he moves is something that is not common in guys with his size. He is big, he is fast, he is athletic, he can jump through the roof, and he has a good head for the game. He’s not just an athlete either; this kid is a football player. He has some of the best pass catching technique I’ve seen at the college level. He never seems to let the ball get in on him, giving it the chance to bounce off of his pads. He catches the ball away from his body, letting his enormous hands do the work for him. Making the adjustment from the high school level to the college one is tough for anyone. For someone who, more times than not, was a man among boys at the high school level that adjustment can be even tougher. He’ll be challenged early and often, likely with physical press coverage. How he reacts to that will go a long way towards determining how successful he can be. I still say that McCoy is the most likely candidate, but it would not surprise me in the slightest to see Julio become that guy as the season progresses. We told you on Wednesday that a 7 man rotation was forming in practice, with Stover and Gibson on the outside looking in. The thing about the receiver position is that it is more fluid than possibly any other. So many different players can rotate through the position that it is possible that Alabama could actually play all 10 of these scholarship players. As Glen55 pointed out, Nikita Stover’s ratio of big plays vs. playing time leans in favor of big plays. The guy has 4 TDs on just 22 career receptions, and his 14.7 yards per catch average is the highest among any of the returning receivers. Given that he is a big play candidate, and he’ll be one of the few guys at the position with experience, it would be hard to imagine that he won’t see time in the rotation. That experience might also get Will Oakley on the field. He’s not with the team right now while he recovers from off season foot surgery, but he is expected to join the team on the 20th when the rosters expand. Missing fall camp hurts, but Will has plenty of experience with John Parker Wilson, and he worked with the offense during the spring. So having a grasp of the offense shouldn’t be a problem. He is the Tide's best blocking receiver, and that could also punch his ticket for the field. The thing about the receiver rotation is that the battle for playing time might not be a case of ranking the 10 receivers, and then putting the best 4 on the field at any time. The outside positions are different from the slot positions, and it is possible that a guy who might rank as the 8th or 9th best overall guy might possibly be the 2nd or 3rd best option for a particular play from a particular formation. Each of these 10 guys offers something different to the receiver position, and that opens up the possibility of all 10 actually seeing playing time. Though it is not realistic to think that 10 receivers are going to catch a significant number of passes, especially when you consider the number of balls that will go to tight ends and running backs. If you breakdown the receivers into groups, this is likely what you get: Outside receivers - McCoy, Jones, Alexander, Maze and Oakley Slot Receivers - Stover, Jackson and Scott Guys that play both - Gibson and Hanks In recent Tide practices there has been a good deal of movement within those groups as the coaches are starting to look at how Alabama can create mismatch opportunities. Both Stover and McCoy have worked a little at the “other” position, though when push comes to shove, this is how it is likely to work out. The interesting one there is Maze. Given Jim McElwain’s love of taking small, quick guys and putting them in slot, he seemed a given to be there – to match up with a safety or a linebacker and try to get into “space” on the defense and use his quickness to his advantage. What we’ve actually seen is the opposite; Maze on the outside using his blazing speed to stretch the field. You typically don’t think of the 5’9 guy getting deep on the defense, but that might be his role. With him on the outside, that puts Stover, Jackson and Scott in the slot position, attempting to use their quickness to make people miss. Stover’s biggest plays have come with him in the slot, Jackson has really impressed in fall camp, and Scott might be the prototype player for the position. He’ll likely see the ball on screens and reverses, anything to get the ball in his hands. Gibson and Hanks have worked at both positions, trying to figure out the best way to get them the ball. Neither one of these guys is blessed with elite size or speed. They don’t have the eye-popping skill set that makes people say wow. What they do have is the ability to run crisp, sharp routes and the ability to catch anything that touches their hands. In a lot of seasons Gibson might be the guy looking to emerge as the “go to guy.” He has the type of hands that you look for in a player that you are throwing to frequently. But on this year’s team he might just get lost in the shuffle of guys that do have that big play capability. Hanks is more capable of that, and that’s why he’ll see the field before Gibson. The real wildcard could be Earl Alexander. I’m not sold on him yet, but he continues to receive praise from his teammates. And at his size (between 6’4 and 6’5) he can create real match up problems on the outside. He has yet to show me the physical side of being a guy capable of using his height to bring in tough passes, but that has evidently been his area of largest improvement, at least according to his teammates. Don’t be surprised if you see all 10 of these guys play in the first 4 or 5 games as Bama tries to figure out who the most reliable guys are. Obviously practice performance will factor in and a guy like Gibson who is lauded for his effort in practice might see time ahead of Stover who isn’t know to be a workout warrior. But as the season wears on I expect that we’ll see this number get paired down some, with only 6 or 7 guys getting the majority of the time over the final half of the season. The best news for Bama is that unlike last year there are a number of guys with the ability to step up and be a leader in this group. An offense needs more than 1 player at wide receiver that can command the defense’s attention, and last season the Tide struggled in that regard – especially during the times when DJ Hall wasn’t in the mood to be that guy. McCoy should be the leading receiver on the team, though it wouldn’t surprise me to see either Jones or Hanks end up topping the stat sheet. Last season at Fresno State McElwain’s offense had 3 players top 35 receptions, with 2 of those over 45. That type of pass distribution is something that has been a staple of offensive teams headed by both McElwain and Nick Saban, and the Tide looks to actually have the players to make it happen. glen55's quick takes * I'm hearing the same happy talk about McCoy that nxojkt is hearing, but I heard it last year, too, and then he averaged 7.4 yards per reception. That is just flat-out awful. No other wideout in the SEC with over 10 receptions averaged less than 8.9 yards per catch, so McCoy brought up the rear for the entire league by a comfortable margin. I know he's a good blocker, but blocking ain't the main thing for a wideout. So my money is on Jones. * Just wanted to throw in a "me too" on something nxojkt said about Julio: He catches the ball away from his body, letting his enormous hands do the work for him. Enormous hands. That was something I didn't realize about him last year from reading all the high-school hype. But in addition to his numerous other physical gifts, Jones has hands the size of palm leaves. That's got to make his main job, catching the football, easier. * I normally discipline myself to not be optimistic about any position where we have to rely on unproven players, but I don't think it has ever been as difficult a task as it is for me this year with the wideout position. The smart angle is to expect little from our wideouts this year. We have very little returning in the way of proven production, and among the three experienced guys coming back, one has missed fall camp with injury, another is buried on the depth chart, and the third is the guy I've already ragged on for his non-productivity last year. But I find myself unable to take that smart angle. There is just too much promise among too many new or unproven folks for me not to feel like at least some of that promise is going to pan out. Even 50% and we wind up with a very nice wide receiving corps this year. So I just . . . can't . . . make . . . myself . . . be . . . smart. My stupid brain keeps telling me our wide receiver situation is going to be improved over last year. * I think nxojkt nailed it. Don't be surprised if 10 wideouts catch balls this year, especially early in the season. By the end of the year, we'll probably be in a rotation of less folks, but it still could be as many as seven or so, given that different guys bring different strengths that work in different situations. There's just no good way to say, here and now in August, who those seven will be.
|< Prev||Next >|