TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s receiving corps has one star and an impressive supporting cast.
Now, it’s up to Amari Cooper & Co. to live up to a preseason buzz ordinarily reserved for the top-ranked Crimson Tide’s tailbacks and defense.
Cooper produced one of the best seasons by an Alabama receiver as a freshman and is joined by a mix of established veterans and highly recruited youngsters to give quarterback AJ McCarron a deep assemblage of targets.
Included in the group is freshman Raheem Falkins, a four-star prospect from Carver High in New Orleans. Falkins caught 47 passes for 1,058 yards (22.5 yards per catch) and 14 touchdowns as a senior after earning Class 2A afirst-team all-state honors as a junior with 51 catches for 800 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“It’s going to be one of the most spectacular receiver groups that have come around in a long time,” deep threat Kenny Bell, from Rayville, said. “We all push each other. We don’t take it for granted that one’s better than the other, we just try to push each other. Everybody out there’s just taken it upon themselves to be a leader and push each other.”
Even former players are raving about the group.
“Probably the best wide receiving corps Alabama’s ever had is going to be in Tuscaloosa this year,” said Jay Barker, quarterback of the Tide’s 1992 national championship team.
McCarron said the chemistry with the receivers is the best he’s had.
The collection of talent is especially notable because Alabama hasn’t exactly been Wide Receiver U. Atlanta Falcons star Julio Jones, the No. 6 overall pick in 2011, was the first Tide receiver drafted since fifth-rounder Triandos Luke seven years earlier.
There’s only one bona fide star entering the season, but all the returnees have been productive.
The depth showed when the passing game continued to thrive after Bell, DeAndrew White and freshman Chris Black were lost to injuries in 2012.
Cooper racked up 1,000 receiving yards and a school-record 11 touchdowns on 59 catches. His numbers were slightly better than Jones’ record-setting freshman season, and Cooper added two touchdowns in the BCS championship game win over Notre Dame.
The 6-foot-1, 202-pounder produced the fourth-best yardage total by a Tide receiver and had 29 catches of 15-plus yards.
Cooper has been limited in practice with a strained foot but produced 182 yards and three touchdowns on four catches in Alabama’s first scrimmage.
“He is absolutely amazing,” Tide cornerback John Fulton said. “Some of the stuff he does, I have no idea where he learned it from, but he’s absolutely amazing.”
Cooper has plenty of help, too. Alabama’s five returning receivers who played last year have a collective 128 games and 44 starts while producing 3,092 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Kevin Norwood has 144 yards in the past two national championship games, while Bell is averaging 19.8 yards on 36 catches.
White started the first five games last season before his knee injury.
That doesn’t include the highly touted Black, who was expected to play last season before a preseason shoulder injury. Coach Nick Saban pondered giving up Black’s redshirt for the Southeastern Conference and BCS championship games if necessary.
“He’s going to be a great receiver,” Bell said. “Y’all just watch out for him.”
Five-star recruit Robert Foster joins the mix, creating plenty of competition.
“Not one receiver is letting another receiver slack,” Cooper said. “We’ve been pushing each other every day. We’ve been pushing the young guys to learn the system, and it’s been very fun.”
Sophomore Cyrus Jones, a five-star receiving prospect who played some last season, has moved to cornerback.
Saban always insists he seeks a balanced offense, and the Tide has only a 124-yard edge in rushing yards versus passing in claiming the past two national titles.
The offensive line underwent a makeover, but with tailback T.J. Yeldon and the receivers, there are plenty of skill players.
“I think this offense could be great,” H-back Jalston Fowler said. “I mean really good. We’ve got weapons everywhere. I think you could take any guy out and not miss a heartbeat.”
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