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March 4, 2012

Spring preview: Receivers and tight ends

Tidesports.com's annual preview of spring practice at the University of Alabama continues with a look at the receivers and tight ends. This is the fourth of an eight-part series previewing one position each day until spring drills commence on March 9.

TIDESPORTS.COM'S LOOK AT THE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS
Moving on
For the first time in five years, UA goes into a spring practice without Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks and Brandon Gibson on hand. Maze and Hanks were UA's top two wide receivers in 2011 and brought a wealth of experience. Tight end Brad Smelley also moves on after the most productive season of his career.

Moving forward
It's a big spring for the likes of Kenny Bell, Christion Jones, DeAndrew White and Kevin Norwood, four of many scholarship receivers who will vie for more significant playing time. Norwood and Bell are the most experienced of those, but neither could be considered SEC-seasoned. White was starting in the three-receiver set during fall camp scrimmages last year, was drawing praise from UA coach Nick Saban, and looked primed for production. But White's playing time wasn't what most expected, and he was only able to show occasional flashes in game action. Tight end Michael Williams returns as an experienced veteran who is effective both as a blocker and receiver. If an effective H-back receiver doesn't develop in the spring, Williams could be more of a passing target in the fall.

Moving up
Some of the younger options at the position include Danny Woodson Jr. and Marvin Shinn, both of whom redshirted last season. The status of Duron Carter, Michael Bowman and Ronald Carswell is less certain. Bowman and Carswell were suspended midseason last year, and Carter was absent from bowl preparations in December after spending the season on the scout team. At tight end, Harrison Jones has a strong opportunity to replace Smelley in the H-back role. Brandon Lewis, Brian Vogler and Malcom Faciane also return at tight end. Lewis has the size to be a line-of-scrimmage tight end like Williams, but could end up specializing as an H-back on running plays; more or less a short-yardage fullback role.

Moving day
Incoming freshmen Chris Black and Amari Cooper, two Florida natives, enrolled in January and will add to the competition in spring practice. It bodes well for both that the returning players at the position, as a whole, aren't especially experienced. That doesn't guarantee an impact this fall, but it could help make for a shorter climb to the playing rotation.

Position overview
Alabama has no shortage of candidates at receiver, but it's not exactly clear which of them can develop into an explosive playmaker that can get open deep down the field, and/or turn a short pass into a long gain. That's an element that Maze brought, and in spring practice, the search will be on for someone who can do the same. Alabama hasn't been this inexperienced at receiver since 2008, when Julio Jones was UA's runaway receiving leader as a true freshman, and the No.2 target was tight end Nick Walker. There is also the matter of replacing Maze as a punt returner, something Jones showed flashes of being able to do last season, particularly in the BCS title game.




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