TUSCALOOSA | Just three games into the 2011 season, Brad Smelley already has caught more passes than he did all of last year. And with fellow tight end Michael Williams already having caught a touchdown pass at Penn State, the University of Alabama is maintaining the tight end position as a reliable aspect to its passing attack.
The timing couldn't be better for Smelley. The Tuscaloosa native is in his final season at the Capstone.
"I know I feel like I can make plays. Me and AJ (McCarron) have a good chemistry," Smelley said. "I'm looking forward to making more plays in the future. ... AJ spreads the ball out well. He really goes through his reads and progressions and finds the open man. That's what we want to do."
The Crimson Tide plays host to Arkansas Saturday afternoon (CBS, 2:30 p.m.) at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and Smelley would like nothing more than to continue to be consistent target for first-year quarterback AJ McCarron.
Smelley has pulled in seven receptions in three games, ranking second on the team, for 72 yards, one more catch than he had in 2010. Williams has caught four passes for 44 yards and a touchdown. At their current receiving paces, the two would combine for 44 catches by the end of the regular season, 11 more than UA got from its top two tight ends last year.
"The tight ends have done a good job. Every position on our team can play better, and our expectation is that we will improve and play better. But the tight ends have played good," said Alabama coach Nick Saban. "Brad has played very well, practices well every day, and has been a good special teams player for us. Michael Williams has done a really good job blocking. He's had a few opportunities to catch the ball and has done a good job at that."
Chris Underwood, Brian Vogler, Harrison Jones and Malcom Faciane provide Alabama's depth at the position, but a new face to the tight end position has provided even more.
At 290 pounds, Brandon Lewis moved from defensive line to tight end to give the Crimson Tide more size at the position. He found his way onto the field as a tight end as quickly as the Penn State game, and figures to give UA more of a blocking presence in short-yardage situations.
"He's a big guy. I think he's the biggest guy in the room now," Smelley said. "He's a trainwreck when he hits somebody in the hole. It's good to have those guys. He can catch the ball, and he can run too. He's a good athlete. We didn't recruit him for nothing."
Richardson looks to keep pace
Alabama running back Trent Richardson is well aware that Arkansas enters Saturday's game with the top offense in the Southeastern Conference, As such, he will be looking to make sure the Crimson Tide maintains a strong offensive pace of its own, especially if the Alabama defense struggles.
"It's gonna be a big responsibility for us because Arkansas has a good offense. They're gonna score as many points as they can," Richardson said. "Our defense? We have to back them up any chance we can in the game."
Alabama's offense ranks second in the SEC at 475.7 total yards per game.
UA staff to wear patches
Members of the Alabama coaching staff, as well as the Arkansas staff, will wear patches Saturday in support of Coach to Cure MD week. The nationwide initiative is meant to raise awareness of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. All but 11 of the 120 major college football programs will support the cause with the patches this weekend. The program is expected to top $1 million in donations this weekend. Fans can donate $5 by texting the word CURE to 90999, or by visiting www.CoachtoCureMD.org. Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is the most common fatal childhood genetic disorder. There is no cure and life expectancy for those affected is under the age of 30.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com or at 205-722-0196.