Daily file photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
Senior Matt Caddell will be among a strong group of wide receivers vying for playing time this year for Alabama. Coach Nick Saban agrees his group of receivers might be a deep as any position on the team. Hawaii’s Tyson Kafentzis makes a play on Caddell in the Tide’s season opener in 2006.
Talented and deep group looking for playing time
By Josh Cooper
TUSCALOOSA — DJ Hall wants it. So does Mike McCoy.
Nikita Stover? Yes, the Hartselle High grad wants it, too. Matt Caddell sort of wants it, but he is a little shyer than his other teammates.
The “it” in this case is the ball. That oblong object that flies from quarterback John Parker Wilson’s grasp into the four aforementioned receivers’ hands.
With so many options, how does Wilson soothe his targets’ egos when he doesn’t give it to them?
“When they come to me and tell me they want the ball, you need to know how to feel that stuff out,” Wilson said. “I think they do a good job of knowing their role. They need to act like they are going to get it every play.”
The wide receiver is one of the more confounding positions on a football team. It is solitary by nature, ego-driven by attitude, but team-oriented in goal.
“Of course, you want the ball if you are a playmaker,” Hall said. “You want the ball in your hands. But that’s part of being a team player. You also need to get excited when you don’t have the ball.”
First, there is the one-on-one battle with the cornerback. According to McCoy, a receiver thinks he never should get beat, and that is something he tries to tell the defensive back, with both his actions and his on-field trash talk.
Then there is the other battle, the one with the quarterback to let him know that you are open. McCoy said that every receiver thinks he is open, but it’s the quarterback’s job to tell him about the unseen factors while a receiver is running his routes.
“If you are going to be a great receiver, you need to think that you are going to be productive in anything that you do,” McCoy said. “You need to have that mentality that he can’t cover me.”
In the last two years, then-coach Mike Shula opened up Alabama’s passing game, favoring a balanced attack over the run-oriented Tide teams of the past. That philosophical shift led to several record-breaking offensive seasons by Alabama players.
Former quarterback Brodie Croyle, who played two full seasons as a starter, is Alabama’s all-time leading passer.
Wilson set the mark for most passing yards in a season in 2006 with 2,707 yards.
Hall set a single-season record for receiving yardage.
Shula helped this along by putting an increased emphasis on recruiting wide receivers.
The current stable of wideouts was brought in during recruiting hauls from the 2003-06 seasons.
Caddell was a top recruit coming out of McAdory High in McCalla in 2003, while Hall and Keith Brown were recruited for the 2004 season. Brown is suspended for the season opener against Western Carolina, but started last season.
Stover was one of the top in-state receivers at Hartselle and debuted in 2006 after spending two years at Itawamba Community College in Fulton, Miss. McCoy is a sophomore, and after not recording one catch in 2006 was dubbed the starter for the season opener.
“We probably have as much depth at receiver as at any position on our team,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We’ve had a lot of receivers that have done well in camp, so we’re looking forward to seeing how they do when they get an opportunity in the game.”
Despite the singular attitude of most receivers, the team aspect of the position comes in when another player has the ball. As soon as a pass is delivered or a handoff is made, the group goes into action, blocking and opening lanes for the ball carrier.
According to Hall, it is sometimes the plays that don’t end up on the stat sheet that can lend to a receiver’s success as an overall football player.
“Of course, I want the ball, every time I can, every down. But I sometimes get more excited when somebody else scores,” Hall said. “If you knock a guy out on a block and the running back scores, that is exciting.
“It’s always fun to spring someone for a big run.”
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