August 26, 2013 12:28:30 PM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Alabama's receiving corps has one standout and an impressive supporting cast.
Now it's up to Amari Cooper and Company to live up to a preseason buzz ordinarily reserved for the top-ranked Crimson Tide's tailbacks and defense.
Cooper produced one of the best seasons by a Alabama receiver as a freshman and is joined by a mix of veterans and highly recruited youngsters to give quarterback AJ McCarron a deep assemblage of targets.
"It's going to be one of the most spectacular receiver groups that have come around in a long time," deep threat Kenny Bell said. "We all push each other. We don't take it for granted that one's better than the other, we just try to push each other. Everybody out there's just taken it upon themselves to be a leader and push each other."
Even former players are raving about the group. "Probably the best wide receiving corps Alabama's ever had is going to be in Tuscaloosa this year," said Jay Barker, quarterback of the Tide's 1992 national championship team.
McCarron said the chemistry with the receivers is the best he's had.
The collection of talent is notable because Alabama hasn't exactly been Wide Receiver U. Atlanta Falcons star Julio Jones, the No. 6 pick in 2011, was the first Crimson Tide receiver drafted since fifth-rounder Triandos Luke seven years earlier.
There's only one bona fide standout entering the season, but all the returnees have been productive. The depth showed when the passing game continued to thrive after Bell, DeAndrew White, and freshman Chris Black were lost to injuries in 2012.
Cooper had 1,000 receiving yards and a school-record 11 touchdowns on 59 catches. His numbers were slightly better than Jones' record-setting freshman season, and Cooper added two touchdowns in the Bowl Championship Series championship game victory against the University of Notre Dame.
The 6-foot-1, 202-pounder produced the fourth-best yardage total by a Crimson Tide receiver and had 29 catches of 15-plus yards.
Cooper has been limited in practice with a strained foot, but he had 182 yards and three touchdowns on four catches in Alabama's first scrimmage.
"He is absolutely amazing," Crimson Tide cornerback John Fulton said. "Some of the stuff he does, I have no idea where he learned it from, but he's absolutely amazing."
Cooper has plenty of help, too. Alabama's five returning receivers who played last year have a collective 128 games and 44 starts while producing 3,092 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Kevin Norwood had 144 yards in the last two national championship games, while Bell is averaging 19.8 yards on 36 catches. White started the first five games last season before his knee injury.
That doesn't include the highly touted Black, who was expected to play last season before a preseason shoulder injury. Coach Nick Saban pondered giving up Black's redshirt for the Southeastern Conference and BCS championship games if necessary.
"He's going to be a great receiver," Bell said. "Y'all just watch out for him."
Five-star recruit Robert Foster and fellow freshman Raheem Falkins have joined the mix to create plenty of competition.
"Not one receiver is letting another receiver slack," Cooper said. "We've been pushing each other every day. We've been pushing the young guys to learn the system, and it's been very fun."
Sophomore Cyrus Jones, a five-star receiving prospect who played some last season, has moved to cornerback.
Saban always insists he seeks a balanced offense, and the Crimson Tide has only a 124-yard edge in rushing yards versus passing in claiming the past two national titles. The offensive line underwent a makeover, but with tailback T.J. Yeldon and the receivers, there are plenty of skill players.
"I think this offense could be great," H-back Jalston Fowler said. "I mean really good. We've got weapons everywhere. I think you could take any guy out and not miss a heartbeat."