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July 28, 2011

Analysis: Hanks absence opens door for youth

TUSCALOOSA | With an obscure NCAA rule putting University of Alabama senior Darius Hanks on the sideline for the first two games of the 2011 season, the Crimson Tide enters fall camp next week with an expanded opportunity for its unproven receivers. How might Hanks' absence impact both camp and the first two weeks of the season? Here are a few thoughts on some of the questions Hanks' sit-out raises:

How might practice repetitions be altered in the preseason?
Hanks is allowed to practice under the rule, and he'll no doubt rotate for reps in team drills to whatever extent he needs to stay sharp. At the same time, new wide receivers coach Mike Groh knows he must have at least two less-proven wide receivers ready to join veteran Marquis Maze in early-season action. To that end, the youngsters will no doubt be tested under a little more fire in the preseason than they otherwise would have.

Kent State and Penn State: A tale of two plans
UA coach Nick Saban would never say it, but we will: Hanks simply won't be missed against the Golden Flashes. Even with a newcomer making a starting debut at quarterback, the UA running game will keep the chains moving. Consider the season opener, then, as something of an audition for the likes of Duron Carter, Kevin Norwood, Brandon Gibson, DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell.

Hanks could be very much missed against the Nittany Lions, where the UA quarterback -- whoever it is -- will see his first action in a truly hostile environment, and will be throwing to only one veteran (Maze) who won't, for the most part, be doing the same. That may mean a little more pressure on whoever fills Hanks' shoes, but the real pressure will be on a veteran UA line charged with springing a consistent rushing attack against what is certain to be a dare-you-to-pass defensive plan.

How do things change for Maze?
You can bet the senior will draw more attention from safeties against Kent State and Penn State than he has ever seen before, now that he's no longer playing opposite Julio Jones. And considering he is the more proven deep threat, that may not change much even after Hanks returns.

Who steps in?
That conversation may start with the newcomer, Carter, but it doesn't end with him. Factors that play in his favor include his Big Ten and junior college experience, and the size edge he'll have on most of his competition at 6-4, 210 pounds. His primary obstacle could be learning to grasp the offense quickly, something that won't be made easier by his late arrival to the Capstone. As such, Carter may not be burdened with learning two of the receiver positions until he has a full grasp of one. Gibson, by contrast, knows just about every nuance of all the receiver spots despite limited career playing time. The UA staff is said to have a high level of trust in Gibson, so don't count him out for a meaningful role in Happy Valley. Singling out other candidates to play against Penn State amounts to little more than guesswork for the moment. Suffice it to say that the younger receivers would be wise to get noticed against Kent State.

What lies ahead when Hanks returns?
The Norcross (Ga.) native will begin his final season against North Texas on Sept.17, and it won't be poor timing for Groh to be able to re-integrate Hanks and re-define the roles of others against a softer non-conference opponent. Past that, UA will enter a tough two-game stretch hosting Arkansas and at Florida. By that time, UA will need a reliable third receiver to have already emerged.

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase.goodbread@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0196.


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