Alabama players discuss Jaylen Waddle's return to practice
A day after Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith was named as the Heisman Trophy winner, the Crimson Tide appears to be gathering positive momentum toward bringing back another dynamic wideout into its offense. Star receiver Jaylen Waddle returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since fracturing his ankle during a kick return against Tennessee on Oct. 24.
Waddle’s status is unknown for Alabama’s national championship game matchup against Ohio State next week. However, according to his teammates, the playmaker is off to a promising start in practice.
“I think he's getting back into it,” Smith said of Waddle. “Of course, he's going to take some time just for him to get back comfortable with everything, but he looks good to me.”
Before suffering his injury on the opening kickoff against Tennessee, Waddle recorded 25 receptions for 557 yards and four touchdowns over four full games. The 5-foot-10, 182-pounder was Alabama’s starter at slot receiver and also returned punts and kickoffs. He has since been replaced by Slade Bolden at slot receiver while Smith has handled punts and tight end Jahleel Billingsley has taken on the kick return role.
Even without Waddle, Alabama ranks in the top 10 in scoring offense (48.2 points per game), total offense (535 yards per game) and passing offense (349.3 ypg). While Alabama players were shy to talk about the chances of getting the star receiver back in time for next week’s matchup against Ohio State, the thought of reinserting the star receiver into an already historic offense is pretty enticing.
“It would be really cool,” quarterback Mac Jones said. “Jaylen has worked really hard to get back on the field and I know he wants nothing more than to play, but I think they're just going to make that decision downstairs. But it's his choice, and I feel like in watching him, he looks really good out there. So we'll see what happens.”
Added receiver John Metchie III: "I think everyone knows what he brings and what that brings when he's on the field to the defense, how they look at that, how dynamic our offense is."
Tuesday, Alabama head coach Nick Saban told ESPN that Waddle had been cleared to practice this week and could possibly play in next week’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
"He's been running, but we need to see him in practice," Saban said. "Our medical people will evaluate him as the week goes on and make a decision from there. He wants to play and has been working hard to get back."
Waddle’s availability next week will depend on how comfortable he feels on his ankle heading into the game. The junior is thought of as a likely first-round pick in this year’s NFL draft. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has him ranked as the No. 8 overall player in his latest ranking of NFL prospects.
Alabama will play Ohio State for the national title on Monday at 7 p.m. CT inside of Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.