football Edit

ArDarius Stewart gives WR group an identity

Alabama wide receiver (13) ArDarius Stewart runs the ball after a pass in the second half against LSU at Bryant Denny Stadium on Saturday November 7, 2016. (Noah Sutton | Special to The Tuscaloosa News)

The identity for the University of Alabama wide receivers didn’t show up until late last season. It was a group that started as a band of unknowns and newcomers. But late in the year, ArDarius Stewart settled on a moniker to fit his cohorts.

The wide receivers became the “assassins.”

"It comes from the heart, man. It comes from the heat that we go through,” redshirt junior Robert Foster said. “The blood, the sweat, the tears that we spread on the field ... It's just our mentality. We're tough. We've been through so much in camp and the running that we have to be assassins. We have that savage mentality."

The assassins are back mostly intact this year, though graduate transfer Richard Mullaney has moved on. Foster and star sophomore Calvin Ridley are still around and among the offense’s most experienced weapons. But the group still takes many of its cues from Stewart.

Stewart, a redshirt junior, is the most experienced returning player. Ridley’s numbers exceeded his last season, but Stewart is superlative in other areas. He’s considered the best blocker among the wide receivers, for one. Stewart is reluctant to say it, but his teammates agree.

“I don't want to come out there and be soft or have people thinking they can push me around,” Stewart said. “I want to set the tone.”

He sets the tone not just in practice, but in games. One of Ridley’s highlight plays from his freshman season was a 59-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the second quarter against Mississippi State. Ridley made the catch and juked around a Bulldog defender, but Stewart set him up for the score by charging downfield to block the final would-be tackler. Stewart doesn’t just block the man in front of him, but goes looking for contact.

Stewart said that was his favorite block from 2015. Ridley said he focused heavily on his route-running and blocking this offseason. With Stewart’s help, he’s been able to improve.

“He's been helping with my blocking and telling me how to get in position,” Ridley said.

The receivers have no shortage of players who can provide positive examples for the rest of the “assassins.” Ridley is a deep threat with fluid moves. Foster is another experienced option, and he said he can help younger players in the group improve their communication. Graduate transfer Gehrig Dieter is new to Alabama, but has more college experience than any fellow wideouts.

“We've got guys that can block, guys that can go downfield, guys that can catch the ball in short yardage and get past the line of scrimmage,” Stewart said. “We can do it all."

They’re all options for Alabama. Now the assassins are learning how to strike from unexpected areas, studying routes on each play from different receiver positions. If each receiver knows the assignment for every position, they can move around the field and give the defenses different appearances.

Instead of focusing on one target, opponents will have to be prepared for every player on every play.

“We've got guys that can bounce around from X to Z to H,” Stewart said. “Everybody can play it, we're just trying to get the concepts down. It's not a set position, we're just trying to put it all together."

That means it won’t be up to one receiver to set the tone. Stewart may have coined the “assassin” nickname, but his teammates are responsible for spreading it.

“We’ve got to be the slashers, man,” Stewart said. “We’ve got to come in when we need a big play. Sacrifice our bodies, make something happen and make something come through. When we're down and we're struggling, we’ve got to swing the momentum in our hands.”

Reach Ben Jones at ben@tidesports.com or 205-722-0196.