Of course, some members of this year’s Alabama team were a part of last year’s national championship squad. Nevertheless, a number of top performers from 2011 must be replaced. When the roll call of lost stars begins, it doesn’t start with wide receiver, even though both the number one split end and number one flanker from last year have graduated.
The top returning receiver is Kenny Bell, a 6-1, 180-pound junior from Rayville, La., and Bell ranked fifth in receptions for a Bama squad that was not known for its aerial fireworks. Last year Bell had 17 receptions for 255 yards. He had fewer than one-third the number of catches by 2011 Tide leader Marquis Maze (56 receptions for 627 yards). Also departed from last year’s wide receiver corps is Darius Hanks (26 catches for 328 yards).
Alabama is in its sixth day of fall camp and the first day in which Bama had two practices. Bell talked about the work of the wide receivers between Wednesday practice sessions.
As expected, he wasn’t interested in comparing last year’s receivers with this year’s contenders. He does think this year’s competitors are working hard.
“I really can’t compare us with last year’s group,” he said. “Through all the years I’ve been here, we’ve had great receivers, fast receivers. I’ll just say we’re out there working hard and we’ve got some speed, too. All the receivers are going out to practice to get better. We’re competing with each other, pushing each other to make sure everybody comes out to work hard and show all their ability to play.”
Bell said he is trying to be a leader. He said that the receivers consider themselves to be “brothers to each other,” and said that because of his experience “I’m like a big brother to the guys. I think my leadership role has improved a lot. I try to come out and compete and try to lead by example. I'm going to push them hard as they push me hard. I'm going to lift them up when they need to be lifted up. I want to compete with them, and make sure they can be the best they can be.”
He doesn’t think this year’s receiving corps has anything to prove. “Everybody wants to improve,” he said. “We want to be the best we can be so that when AJ (quarterback A.J. McCarron) needs us, we’ll be there.”
Bell said that formations under new Offensive Coordinator Doug Nussmeier are “all about the same. It’s nothing different from last year. Everything is the same.”
He did say that he hopes for “more explosive plays. I feel like the offense is getting better. I know it’s going to be tough, and we’re going to be tough to deal with.”
Bell said, “I’m very blessed to have speed, but I don’t want to be known just as speed guy. I want to be known as an all-around receiver, a hard worker, and a great leader.”
Last year Alabama’s defense led the nation in all major statistical categories (run defense, pass defense, total defense, scoring defense, third down defense). Almost overlooked is that the offense was second in the Southeastern Conference, averaging 429.6 yards per game, a scant 7 yards per game behind SEC leader Arkansas.
And Alabama was balanced. Bama’s best-in-the-conference rushing offense was 214.5 yards per game, the passing offense providing 215.2 yards per game. That’s about two feet per game difference.
Bell understands Saban’s infatuation with the running game. “We’ve got a few really good backs,” Bell said, naming Eddie Lacy, Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart, and T.J. Yeldon.
“If they’re running the ball good, you just keep feeding the horse until it breaks,” he said. “As a receiving corps, we’ll be there when our number is called, and we’ll make plays on the ball.”
He said the receivers also spend a lot of time learning to be better blockers, “because we’re going to have to spring those guys, our great running backs.”
Two freshmen wide receivers entered The University last January and took part in spring drills. One, Chris Black, suffered a shoulder injury in Bama’s Saturdcay practice. The other, Amari Cooper, has been mentioned frequently for what he has shown.
Bell said that Black was not frustrated by his injury. “He’ll still be learning from the side and working hard,” Bell said.
He said that Cooper is “coming out there and working hard every day, pushing every receiver on the field. He’s making everyone know he’s there. He’s a quick learner.”
Bell, who was redshirted in 2009 and been a back-up the past two years, said the toughest thing about moving from high school football to college is “you have to be able to learn. Coach Saban is going to push you hard and the receiving coach isw going to push you hard. You can’t live off the high school hype. You’ve got to come in and work hard.”