Group of highly touted Alabama wide receivers vying to replace departed targets



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TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — Alabama's receiving corps doesn't have an Amari Cooper this season, just a bunch of guys who were at least as highly touted out of high school as the Heisman Trophy finalist.

From ArDarius Stewart to Robert Foster and Chris Black, the preseason third-ranked Crimson Tide is counting on a number of former blue-chip prospects to translate that talent into production.

Gone are Alabama's top three receivers, including Cooper, a top-5 NFL draft pick who shattered the school receiving records last season. The quarterback competition has been a bigger focal point of preseason camp, but identifying and cultivating reliable targets is also a priority without Cooper, Christion Jones and DeAndrew White.

"All of us have kind of been sitting in the back watching those guys," said Black, who arrived in the same class as Cooper three years ago. "Those guys did some great things for us in the past but we're ready to step up and do our thing now."

Black is the top returning wideout after catching 15 passes for 188 yards while Cooper accounted for 124 of the Tide receivers' 225 total receptions.

Cam Sims, who was expected to contribute, sustained a knee injury in March, and his status this season is uncertain.

There's no shortage of candidates who arrived on campus with considerable attention, not to mention four- or five-star ratings. Plus, Alabama added Oregon State graduate transfer Richard Mullaney, who caught 52 passes for 788 yards as a sophomore before an elbow injury shortened his 2014 season.

Third-year sophomore Foster and freshman Ridley were each rated the top receiver in their respective classes by at least one major recruiting service. Foster and Stewart were co-MVPs of the spring game.

Coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin have had especially high praise for Stewart, with Kiffin calling him "probably the most talented guy that we have."

"I think his confidence is growing, and I think he's the next guy that we need to sort of be the man when it comes to playing receiver and playing with consistency," Saban said. "Quarterbacks can develop confidence in some guys that they can go to, and he's certainly done a good job of that so far."

Stewart, a high school quarterback and safety, was carving out a bigger role as a redshirt freshman, but was limited late by a knee injury. He finished with 12 catches, while Foster had six.

Freshmen Ridley and Daylon Charlot were two of the nation's top-rated receiver prospects. Kiffin praised both and said Ridley has shown signs of the possessing the kind of elite talent of some of his former star receivers.

Tight end O.J Howard, who Kiffin called "a very special player," also could be a beneficiary of Cooper's departure.

Kiffin has coached Biletnikoff Award winners Cooper and USC's Marqise Lee. Like those two, USC's Robert Woods had more than 100 catches in a single season. Clearly the Tide coordinator is willing to target his best playmaker early and often, though that person remains to be determined this season.

"We're going to find our players and get them the ball the best way we can," said Kiffin, who had stints as the Trojans' offensive coordinator and head coach. "It's not Little League, where everyone gets the same amount of touches.

"You saw it last year with Amari and everything being so lopsided. It came down to OK, if he's your best player, give him the ball. It's a basketball mentality. If LeBron's got 30 at half, you're not going to stop passing it to him."

But first, the coaching staff needs to find the Alabama receivers' next version of LeBron James to replace Cooper.

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