Alabama Crimson Tide: Kenny Bell

SEC lunchtime links

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
12:00
PM ET
It's Friday, which means only a day until game day. Thank goodness. Here's some reading from around the league to get you ready:

Revisiting Texas A&M-Alabama, part I

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
1:40
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M shocked the college football world when it went into Tuscaloosa, Ala., and upset the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide last November. It was a game for the ages, with the Aggies jumping out to a 20-0 lead, Alabama charging back to make it close and a nailbiter finish that included a turnover near the goal line.

With the Crimson Tide coming to Kyle Field for a rematch with the Aggies, anticipation has built throughout the offseason. The Tide are again No. 1, defending their BCS championship from a year ago and the Aggies still have their linchpin, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who made his most compelling case for the trophy that afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

As the heavily hyped clash approaches, let's look back at some of the keys to last year's game and how they might affect the rematch.

1. Credit to the Texas A&M defense

When dissecting Texas A&M's upset of Alabama last season, many cite the Aggies' offensive explosion en route to a 20-0 first-quarter lead as one of the most difficult things for Alabama to deal with. And while the Aggies used creative playcalling and personnel packages, their fast pace and precision execution to score three touchdowns on their first three drives, the Aggies' defensive effort had as much -- or more -- to do with their ability to take that kind of commanding lead.

A.J. McCarron
John David Mercer/US PresswireAJ McCarron threw his first interceptions of the season in Alabama's loss to Texas A&M last season.
The first play from scrimmage helped the Aggies set the tone as Alabama handed off to running back Eddie Lacy on an off-tackle play to the left side. Tight end Michael Williams motioned to that side of the formation to help open a hole for Lacy, but Texas A&M linebacker Sean Porter eluded Williams and sliced into the gap between Williams and left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and made a strong tackle to stop Lacy for no gain. Alabama went three-and-out on that drive and punted.

The Crimson Tide's next offensive drive started on a much better note for Alabama, with Lacy gaining 23 yards on his first two carries. But everything halted as the Aggies created a turnover when quarterback AJ McCarron tried to find Kenny Bell in the middle of the field. As a McCarron pass hit Bell in the chest, safety Howard Matthews delivered a hard, clean hit to Bell, who dropped the pass. Porter was there to intercept the pass, and that set up the A&M offense with great field position after a 16-yard return to the Alabama 41.

One of the key players throughout the day for the Aggies' defense was defensive tackle Spencer Nealy. A former defensive end who moved to defensive tackle at the start of the 2012 season despite lacking what would be considered "SEC size" for a tackle, Nealy played an integral role in the Aggies' run defense. Evidence of that was on display at the start of the Crimson Tide's third drive of the game.

On the first play of the drive, Alabama handed off to T.J. Yeldon on the left side and the 6-foot-5, 277-pound Nealy, who lined up at nose tackle on that play and for much of the day, used his quickness to beat center Barrett Jones and tackled Yeldon for a loss of 4 yards. The Crimson Tide went three-and-out on that drive as well as the Aggies forced McCarron's hand with a safety blitz and Matthews got into the backfield untouched, forcing an incomplete pass. The defensive effort by the Aggies forced McCarron to start the game 1-of-5 passing for 5 yards.

And even though the Tide were able to gather their bearings and make a strong comeback with some big plays on offense, the Aggies still found ways to make plays on defense. Matthews plugged a gap on third-and-2 when Yeldon tried to cut back for first-down yardage, holding the Crimson Tide to a third-quarter field goal. Safety Steven Terrell stripped Yeldon in the fourth quarter on the play after a 50-yard pass from McCarron to Amari Cooper. And of course, cornerback Deshazor Everett picked off McCarron on the Tide's final offensive play with 1:36 remaining.

The drawback for Texas A&M in the rematch is that many of the above names are gone. Nealy, Porter, Terrell and other key players -- such as defensive end Damontre Moore and linebacker Jonathan Stewart -- have graduated. They've been replaced by younger, more inexperienced players who have taken their lumps in the first two games. The Aggies also haven't had their full complement of defensive players because several served suspensions in the first two games. Saturday will be the first opportunity for all of their key guys to play together this season.

Lacy is gone for the Tide, as are several offensive linemen. The Tide struggled in that area in their season-opening win against Virginia Tech. So there will be adjustments on both sides with the differences in personnel.

2. Finding the "Y"

Manziel went to receiver Ryan Swope, the "Y" receiver who lines up in the slot on the right side of the offensive formation, early and often against the Crimson Tide. Early in the game the passes were of the short, quick variety, hitch routes that gained incremental yardage, almost like running plays.

Ryan Swope
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireRyan Swope, a senior last season, made 11 catches against Alabama.
As the game wore on, Manziel went downfield to Swope, who made some of the biggest catches of the season. One was in the middle of the field for 28 yards as he was nailed by safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the third quarter. In the fourth, Manziel found Swope down the right sideline for 42 yards.

Swope graduated as well, but look for the guy who made the catch on the play after Swope's 42-yard reception -- Malcome Kennedy -- to be a factor. Kennedy caught a 24-yard touchdown pass on the next play and having experience in a game like that can only help him this Saturday. The question is, can Kennedy bring the kind of consistency that Swope did in catching 11 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown against Alabama?

And should he be healthy for the game, 6-foot-5 freshman receiver Ricky Seals-Jones could be a factor at that position as well. Seals-Jones missed the Sam Houston State game last Saturday with a knee injury.

3. McCarron can scramble, too

While Manziel is known for his scrambling, McCarron showed he has good mobility as well.

McCarron isn't nearly as fleet of foot, but he did show the ability to escape pressure and make quality throws. On two instances in the Crimson Tide's first scoring drive, he evaded the Aggies' pass rush and found Cooper for a first-down completion.

In the second half, McCarron scrambled and tried to find Cooper. He avoided an interception from Everett (who was ruled out of bounds on the catch), but nevertheless, scrambling is a tool McCarron can use if the Aggies dial up extra pressure Saturday.

4. Defending Manziel on the ground

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Dave MartinJohnny Manziel had great success running in the first half against Alabama, but the running lanes closed a bit in the second half.
In the first half last year, Manziel was electric with his feet. Then-offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury was comfortable in calling designed quarterback draws. They were successful as Manziel piled up 82 yards on nine first-half carries.

But the Tide did a much better job containing Manziel in the final two quarters. In the second half, he finished with 10 rushing yards on nine attempts.

This season, Manziel is making an effort to improve as a pocket passer without taking away his playmaking ability. The Aggies have a new offensive coordinator and playcaller (Clarence McKinney) and a new quarterbacks coach (Jake Spavital). It will be interesting to see how much running Manziel does Saturday and how Alabama handles it.

5. Big plays in the Alabama passing game

Cooper, now a sophomore for the Tide, had a huge game in last year's matchup, catching six passes for 136 yards.

He had a catch of 50 yards and a 54-yard touchdown reception, both in the fourth quarter. The first came on an out-and-up, when he beat Everett one on one. The next one came when the Aggies sent Everett on a cornerback blitz and Cooper beat Matthews deep for a touchdown.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- University of Alabama wide receiver Kenny Bell played in Saturday's season opener in Atlanta, returned to practice on Monday and then abruptly announced via Twitter that he was hanging up his cleats for the final time on Tuesday. It wasn't a clear message that he'd quit the football team, and if anyone was looking for clarification on his status, none was to be had when Nick Saban spoke to the media.

Saban said Bell would return to the team Wednesday and that his absence from practice was for "a personal day."

"Sometimes we have personal things to get ironed out, and today he had a day to do that," he said. "So there's really nothing else to talk about when it comes to that."

Saban, though, did elaborate on the situation later during his news conference.

"He came and we had a discussion," he explained. " … There were some personal things he had to iron out and I think he talked to his family about it. I talked to his mom. And we talked again today.

"I want Kenny to be happy. I would love for him to be a part of the team if he can be happy doing that relative to any other personal responsibilities that he has."

Whatever Saban told Bell worked, apparently, as Bell tweeted later that night that he was back.

"I'm back with the team!! Just needed time to myself for a day but I couldn't leave my boy @10AJMcCarron we ended this run together," he wrote on his personal account on Twitter.

Bell, who started three games and appeared in 12 contests in 2012 before a leg injury ended his season, told reporters in the lead up to the season that he was back to 100 percent and touted the offense's growth from a year ago. But the Louisiana native changed his tune when he took to Twitter Tuesday afternoon to announce his departure from the team, though the only reason he cited for giving up the game was to take care of his children.

With or without Bell, Alabama is loaded at receiver. Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones started at receiver against Virginia Tech this past weekend, but Kevin Norwood, Chris Black, Raheem Falkins and Robert Foster are all solid options off the bench.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's so close you can taste it. The smell of barbecue is set to saturate the air in Atlanta as hoards of tailgaters prepare for Saturday's kickoff between No. 1 Alabama and historic ACC powerhouse Virginia Tech.

To get you ready for the game, here are some things to look for when the two schools take to the turf inside the Georgia Dome:

Alabama will win if …
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Amari Cooper is nonchalant about most things. Still just a fresh-faced sophomore, it's hard to tell whether the enormity of his young career, the one that took off like a rocket last season and ended with consensus All-American honors, has sunk in. Has he felt the impact he's had the Tide? Or the SEC?

Alabama hasn't had a playmaker at wide receiver like him since Julio Jones. He's not as physically intimidating or as wildly popular, but his impact is approaching that of Jones. Cooper set nearly every rookie receiving record at Alabama last season, passing his dreadlocked predecessor and others in the process. And he did all that without starting a game until Week 6.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper, Damian Swann
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsThe go-ahead score against Georgia in the SEC title game, was one of many big plays for Amari Cooper during his 11-score freshman season at Alabama.
"My life hasn't changed," Cooper told reporters on Wednesday night, less than 72 hours removed from the season opener against Virginia Tech in Atlanta. Last December he was there and he was anything but understated when he spiked his foot into the ground to help sell a play-action pass in the fourth quarter. Georgia's Damian Swann nearly fell down when Cooper broke left, and 45 yards later Cooper was in the end zone with the game-winning score to give the Tide the SEC Championship. "On the football field I just try to get better every day, so not much changed there either."

At the end of his signature play in the Georgia Dome, Cooper didn't even break his stride to celebrate. He put one hand up and barely recognized the crowd on his jog back to the sidelines. Meanwhile, quarterback AJ McCarron pumped his fist and waved his arms like a wild man all the way to the back of the end zone.

Nothing seems too big for Cooper; no moment, no situation. Whether it's a defense trying to beat him up in man coverage -- "They're saying their guys is better than you" -- or the pressure of living up to the past -- "I don't feel like I did a whole lot last year" -- there doesn’t seem to be an ounce of stress on his shoulders.

His only expectation: "To have a better year than last year."

"Now I'll be starting the first game this year," he continued. "I didn't start the first game last year. We'll see if I have a better year than last year."

Make no mistake, though, Cooper is confident in his abilities. During his first time speaking with the media in Tuscaloosa this spring, he slipped up and said he only had two years left in school, meaning he intends to enter the NFL draft as an underclassman. The sports information director on hand quickly corrected him and Cooper added "at least" a second too late.

"He can be as great as he wants to be," former UA cornerback Dee Milliner said last October, before the rest of the world had caught on to Alabama's rookie phenom. "He can be one of the greatest receivers we’ve had at Alabama. He does a lot of things you really don’t see freshmen do with his speed, his hands, and his quickness that he got. He can be one of the great receivers in years to come."

Doug Nussmeier didn't hesitate to call Cooper one of the game’s best earlier this month. It wasn't just his 59 receptions, 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns that impressed the second-year offensive coordinator. Instead it was Cooper's savvy.

"Amari, and what he did, from where he started to his progression through the season, we felt that towards the end of the season, he was playing as good as anybody in the country at that position," Nussmeier said. "He continues to develop … he's still learning. He's really starting to focus on the little things that are going to take his game to the next level."

Up and down the roster there's respect for Cooper, who added 7 pounds and cut his 40-yard dash time from 4.4 seconds to 4.3 this offseason. Fellow wideout Kenny Bell marveled at Cooper's growth, saying he could be even more explosive this year. Junior tight end Brian Vogler said he "really loves the game," praising his hard work and dedication.

John Fulton has had to go up against Cooper countless times during practice. The senior cornerback said that some of the stuff Cooper does, Fulton has "no idea where he learned it from, but he's absolutely amazing."

"He has this thing he does off the line," Fulton said. "I'm kind of catching onto it now, but he's going to develop something else to mess with my head. He'll take two steps outside, shake inside, shake outside and then shake back inside for a slant and its under .5 seconds. It's so fast, you can't time it. It's crazy."

Defenders around the SEC understand. Coaches do too. Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer took a second to connect Cooper with the game film during a conference call on Monday, but when he did he compared him to a two-time, first-team All-American receiver in his conference.

"I know who he is," Beamer said. "In our league he reminds you of Sammie Watkins there at Clemson. A guy that's just athletic, can go. They've got a good group of wide receivers, but certainly Cooper is a guy who is hard … It's hard to cover that guy."

SEC's lunchtime links

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
12:00
PM ET
Game week has arrived. No more waiting for the action because it all starts this week. Here are some links from around the SEC to whet your football appetite as game day nears:
A.J. McCarron and Nick SabanRobert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsAfter initial issues with Nick Saban, QB AJ McCarron has developed a strong bond and a similar mindset.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Most players on Alabama's roster are like Anthony Steen. The veteran right guard isn't scared of his coach, necessarily, but he has a healthy fear of what happens when Nick Saban gets upset. When Saban calls you into his office and pushes a button to close the door behind you, you know something's wrong. It's a scene straight out of a B-rated thriller: Once the door locks, there's no telling if you're coming back out.

AJ McCarron, though, isn't like most players. He doesn't wait to get called upstairs. He marches there himself.

Five years ago, when McCarron was distinguished mostly by his flop of hair and spread of tattoos, he showed up to his first scrimmage at Alabama expecting a spot on the depth chart that wasn't there. Upset, he went straight to the coach's office. What happened next is burned into Saban's mind forever.

"AJ was on our team for 11 days, and he thought he should be second team and we played him on third team," Saban recalled. "He came fussing and kicking and cussing up to my office after the scrimmage because he was disappointed he didn't play with the second team."

Saban's message to his young quarterback: "We're only evaluating you on one thing today and that was leadership, and you failed dramatically."

The rest, as they say, is history.

In the past four years, coach and quarterback have become remarkably similar. Their mannerisms are often the same -- kicking dirt, slapping hands, shouting at players -- as are their attitudes. Imperfection in any form isn't tolerated, and mental mistakes are disdained.

"AJ and Coach Saban get along better than anyone else on the team," Steen said. "They have their certain jokes that I don't even get sometimes, talking straight about football, too. I just pretend and laugh with them.

"The other day we were in a meeting and he said something to Coach picking at him and he went right back at him. I know I wouldn't get into an argument with Coach."

Their bond didn't start out that way. McCarron was a lot like his fellow teammates when he first got to campus, a "results-oriented guy" who focused on scoring touchdowns and making big plays rather than the process of the day-to-day and what it meant to be a leader. Now he's matured into a guy who wants to play winning football at all costs.

When McCarron was asked at SEC media days what he thought of the seeming lack of attention he receives despite winning so many games, he responded in typical Saban form. He wanted to meet who "they" were, the ones who were saying all of these things about him.

"It's funny to me," he said. "Sometimes I feel like any other quarterback in the country wins two national championships and he's the best thing since sliced bread. And I'm still labeled a game manager.

"It's fine with me. They can call me a bench rider. As long as we keep winning, I don't care."

Saban wasn't there to hear his quarterback's response, but it's safe to say he would have enjoyed it. Maybe more than anything, it's a sign of how far McCarron has come.

McCarron is now the unquestioned leader of the two-time defending champion Crimson Tide and a safe bet to land somewhere in the early rounds of next year's NFL draft. He finished last season ranked first in the country in passing efficiency, and this year he has even more talent at receiver with DeAndrew White, Chris Black and Kenny Bell all back from injury. Amari Cooper has progressed into an All-American talent, and Kevin Norwood is as steady a target as they come in the SEC.

The offense, Bell said, has a chance to be the best in college football.

"We do, especially since we have the people we have on offense," he said. "We have a great quarterback, a great running back, great receivers, a great offensive line. We can be one of the stellar offenses in the country."

A year stronger and a year wiser, McCarron is one of the front-runners to win the Heisman Trophy. Teammates say they've noticed that his strength and accuracy are improved, and no one is asking about his commitment to the game.

"AJ gets better every day, every year," junior wideout Christion Jones said. "He's going to get better no matter if it's the passing game or better fakes."

McCarron, for his part, isn't willing to self-analyze or speculate -- yet another example of the mirror image of Saban he's become. There's still some of the hot-tempered freshman in him somewhere, but much of it has changed to reflect the coach he's followed into three national championships in four seasons.

"I'd be lying to say no, the Heisman, I've never thought of it," he said. "My mom still has a picture of me ... dressed up in a Bama football costume and [doing] the Heisman pose. It's always been a dream of mine, but at the same time I'm not going to let my personal goals come in the way of our team goals. If I achieve that, that's great. I'm happy.

"But at the same time, I'm a team-first guy. I've always been that way. You'll never hear anybody say I'm selfish in any type of way. That's when your program and team starts to fall off, when you're not team-oriented and you're more into personal goals. That's the ingredients for failure there."
Alabama starting linebacker Trey DePriest has been suspended for violation of team rules, according to Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, who stressed that the team's second-leading tackler from a season ago would be able to return to the field shortly if he fulfills his obligations.

DePriest, a junior with NFL potential at 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, missed Tuesday's practice in Tuscaloosa. He's part of a linebacking corps that returns all four of its starters from a season ago, including All-American inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and top pass-rusher Adrian Hubbard on the outside.

[+] EnlargeTrey DePriest
Paul Abell/USA TODAY SportsTrey DePriest has been suspended by Alabama for a violation of team rules.
"[DePriest] played very well for us," Saban told reporters. "He made a mistake. He didn’t do the right thing. It wasn’t a very smart thing to do, and there has to be consequences sometimes when you don’t do the right things. Hopefully, he’ll learn from it, it will make him better and he’ll have a better chance to be successful in life."

Saban also announced that star wide receiver Amari Cooper would miss the next few practices with a strained foot. The Pre-Season All-SEC selection led the team with 59 catches, 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, setting nearly every Alabama rookie receiving record in the process.

Cooper wore a black no-contact jersey during practice on Tuesday.

"He’s going to be out for a few days," Saban explained, "and then he will be day-to-day. I don’t think he’s going to be hurt for a long time."

Luckily for Saban, Alabama is loaded at wide receiver. Kevin Norwood, Christion Jones, DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell all have starting experience and freshmen such as Chris Black, Robert Foster and Raheem Falkins are pushing for playing time as well.

"The receiver group has progressed very, very well from where we were at this point last year," offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said at UA's media day on August 4. "We have a couple of new players, a lot of returning guys, a lot of guys who've played a lot of games. Obviously we had some injury issues last year that helped us develop some younger players."

Alabama was able to welcome back tight end Malcolm Faciane on Tuesday after he finished a 30-day suspension for violation of team rules. The 6-foot-5, 267-pound redshirt sophomore was in line for more reps this season after the departure of Michael Williams, but will have an uphill battle now that backups such as Harrison Jones and O.J. Howard have begun making their case for playing time.

"I don’t like suspending players," Saban said. "If we’re going to punish any players or suspend any players, it’s going to be in their best interest to change their behavior so they have a better opportunity to be successful. If it’s not going to do that, I don’t see any reason to do it.

"It’s almost like raising your kids. If you’re going to spank them and it doesn’t change their behavior, why spank them? If you take their computer or their cell phone away from them and it changes their behavior, I’d say that’s the thing to do. We would only do it in the best interest of the player."

SEC lunchtime links

August, 8, 2013
8/08/13
12:20
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"College Football Live" and its Summer Tour stops in Alabama today. Tom Rinaldi and Todd McShay will check in on Nick Saban, AJ McCarron and Co. Catch them throughout the day on "SportsCenter" and on CFB Live at 5 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

Here are some other things from around the SEC that you may find interesting.
  • Alabama's deep group of receivers may make this year's offense one of the best in school history, receiver Kenny Bell says.
  • Auburn fullback Jay Prosch draws strength from his faith and family as he tries to overcome his mother's death.
  • Georgia's offense didn't exactly light it up in the Bulldogs' first scrimmage.
  • LSU is trying to make sure its players act responsibly when using social media.
  • Kentucky forced just 13 turnovers last season and the Wildcats are making that a point of emphasis during the preseason.
  • Vanderbilt receiver Jonathan Krause is trying to rebound from a season in which he was the forgotten man on offense.
  • Florida having a successful season doesn't hinge on the quarterback, receivers or offensive line. It depends on how well the linebackers develop. The Gators did lose one of the country's top kick returners on Wednesday when the school announced that Andre Debose had suffered a torn ACL.
  • Texas A&M running back Ben Malena is a steadying force in the Aggies' backfield.
  • Five former college quarterbacks weigh in on how they believe Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel has handled his success.
  • Missouri still hasn't settled on a starting quarterback. James Franklin, is trying to hold off redshirt freshman Maty Mauk and sophomore Corbin Berkstresser.
  • Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is frustrated with quarterback Bo Wallace's decision making.
  • TCU coach Gary Patterson took a shot at LSU coach Les Miles for reinstating running back Jeremy Hill after allowing teammates to vote to return to the team.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Ask coaches around college football and they'll tell you how underrated Alabama's offense has been. One SEC defensive coordinator told me this summer that AJ McCarron still doesn't get enough credit for what he's accomplished as a passer. He said the word "steady" comes to mind when he looks at the tape, but that it shouldn't fool you into thinking the Tide's offense lacks punch: McCarron and Co. were consistently successful at getting the better of defenses in 2012.

While Nick Saban's defense has gotten the bulk of credit in the past -- and rightly so, considering it has finished in the top five nationally in points allowed every year since 2008 -- it shouldn't go unnoticed what he's quietly constructed on the other side of the ball thanks to back-to-back No. 1 recruiting classes and a change in philosophy. He's claimed all along that he was willing to throw more and that he wanted more big plays, but for the longest time his offense has been characterized as conservative, leaning on the defense and running game while asking its quarterbacks to simply manage the proceedings.

But when Saban hired Doug Nussmeier as offensive coordinator following the 2011 season, everything changed.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
AP Photo/David J. PhillipAJ McCarron will have a deep and talented wide receiver corps to throw to this fall.
Having arguably the best offensive line in the country and a stable NFL-caliber tailbacks gave the Tide balance -- the difference in rushing and passing yards a razor thin 2.1 percent compared to, say, Oregon which had a differential of 17.3 percent. That opened things up for the passing game, as McCarron finished No. 1 nationally in passing efficiency and fell 67 yards shy of becoming the school's first 3,000-yard passer. There's no telling how many more yards he would have thrown for had Alabama not jumped out to so many big leads, pulling ahead by two touchdowns or more by halftime in 10 games.

With a fresh slate, a veteran quarterback and the deepest group of receivers in recent memory, Alabama's offense has a chance to do even more in 2013. It could, much to the chagrin of opposing coaches, become one of the most explosive attacks in the country.

"Very, very excited for Year 2," Nussmeier said on Sunday. "We've got a long way to go, but I'm really impressed by the job that [strength coach Scott Cochran] and his guys have done in the weight room preparing these guys coming into camp. The focus, the improvements that we've made over the summer are there. Really looking forward to progressing each day as we look forward to playing a very, very good Virginia Tech game in the opener."

Nussmeier kept to the cliches in what will be his only time speaking with the media this season, stressing the need to maintain balance and stick to the program's core philosophies. But it's difficult to imagine him not giving into his roots as a record-setting college quarterback given what he'll have to work with this season. McCarron is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender under center and an already talented receiving corps welcomes back former starters DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell after missing time last season with injuries. Former top-25 prospect Chris Black has shed his redshirt and is eager to prove himself, as are true freshmen Raheem Falkins and Robert Foster.

"The receiver group has progressed very, very well from where we were at this point last year," Nussmeier explained. "We have a couple of new players, a lot of returning guys, a lot of guys who've played a lot of games."

The headliner of the group, Amari Cooper, set nearly every rookie receiving record Alabama had in 2012, passing Julio Jones on his way to double-digit touchdowns and 1,000 yards. And like the former SEC Freshman of the Year and first-round draft pick, Cooper should only improve with age. As Nussmeier pointed out, Cooper took time to develop into a go-to target last season, starting his first career game in Week 6.

"Towards the end of the season, he was playing as good as anybody in the country at that position," Nussmeier said. "He continues to develop, and I can talk about the little intricacies, he's still learning. He's really starting to focus on the little things that are going to take his game to the next level."

Christion Jones agreed with his coordinator, calling Cooper an impact player since the first time he set foot on the field in Tuscaloosa.

Jones was one of two receivers to start 10 games last season, frustrating defenses with his ability to run after the catch, averaging 13.6 yards every time he touched the ball. Despite that, he said he and Cooper are fighting for reps.

"At Alabama, everything we do is competitive," he said. "You have to bring your 'A' game to practice, not just the game."

Bell is one such player pushing for a return to the starting lineup. His 25.4 yards per catch in 2012 was the best in the country among receivers with at least 15 receptions. Now that his broken leg is healed, he's the type of home run threat McCarron can turn to when a big play is needed.

But it's not just Bell who will keep defensive coordinator's up at night. The speedy senior agreed: the offense's potential is sky high.

"Especially since we have the people we have," he said. "We have a great quarterback, a great running back, great receiver, a great offensive line. I think we can be one of the most stellar offenses in the country."
Editor's note: This week, GeauxTigerNation and TideNation will examine all aspects of the LSU-Alabama rivalry during the Nick Saban-Les Miles era. Today's stories focus on the past and future of the schools' recruiting battles.

The LSU-Alabama rivalry extends well beyond the football field. Since Nick Saban took over the Tide, he and Tigers coach Les Miles have clashed in some epic recruiting battles. Through that, both coaches have learned that you can’t get everybody on your wish list, regardless of ties or proximity.

Here’s a list of five prospects who got away from Alabama and five who got away from LSU in what has become one of the nation's top recruiting rivalries.

Five who got away from Alabama:

WR Chris Tolliver, 2008 (Rayville, La./Rayville): It was a classic Tide-Tigers battle for Tolliver, the nation's No. 11 wide receiver. He took official visits to Alabama and LSU in consecutive weeks right before he made his decision. Although he chose to stay in state, the Tide were able to steal his teammate and fellow wide receiver Kenny Bell the following year.


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During the summer, TideNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Alabama roster -- excluding the Tide's 2013 recruiting class -- in our Crimson Countdown series. Starting with No. 1 Dee Hart, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 99 Brandon Ivory.

No. 7 Kenny Bell
Senior wide receiver

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Editor's note: TideNation will use this week to look at the four major positions on the football field and how their outlook has changed post-spring practice. Today we examine the threats in the passing game:

Who's leading?

AJ McCarron is a happy man these days, and not just because he gets to drive the pace car at Talladega. The senior quarterback is smiling, in part, because of the number of weapons he'll have to work with this coming season.

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Alabama 10: Spring wrap

April, 21, 2013
4/21/13
12:42
PM ET
With spring practice complete and fall camp right around the corner, TideNation's power rankings return with a look at the top 10 Alabama players heading into the offseason.

1. QB AJ McCarron (Last ranking: 2): After three trips to the White House, there's not much that fazes McCarron. Even after two interceptions in the A-Day game, there wasn't an ounce of concern. "None," in his words, and at this point in his career there shouldn't be. His championship rings, his record-breaking stats and his talent speak for themselves. There might not be a more decorated quarterback in school history by the time he hangs it up.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDespite an injury he has battled all spring, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley had no trouble making tackles and causing a fumble Saturday.
2. ILB C.J. Mosley (3): It's one thing for a quarterback to play with a black jersey. It's another for a linebacker to do it. But a bum shoulder wouldn't slow Mosley down. The rising senior and leading tackler from last season played all spring with a shoulder harness and a no-contact jersey, yet he found a way to contribute. On Saturday, Mosley finished with a team-high nine "tackles" and, more impressively, caused and recovered a fumble on the same play.

3. LT Cyrus Kouandjio (NR): He's the rock, the anchor to a line replacing three starters. And if you're going to start over, it's nice to have a franchise left tackle like Kouandjio. The rising junior enters the season as arguably the most prized offensive linemen in the SEC. It's only a matter of time before he declares for the NFL draft and is taken near the top of the first round, so Tide fans should enjoy him while they can.

4. RB T.J. Yeldon (7): It's almost as though Yeldon was an afterthought as many fans clung to the untapped potential of early enrollee Derrick Henry this spring. It's typical of a talented team, though, as Yeldon, only a sophomore, is already taken for granted. It was only a year ago that he was the energizing rookie making fans forget about incumbent Eddie Lacy. Unoticed or not, Yeldon is a feature back worth his weight in gold.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- AJ McCarron was almost giddy when he spoke with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi on the morning of national signing day. Alabama's junior quarterback has won two national championships as a starter, and he broke all kinds of passing records this past season. And despite all he has accomplished, the steely, strong-armed veteran had something to get worked up about, something to look forward to next season.

McCarron wasn't smiling because of the big board of recruits being filled up in the Alabama football offices. He checked out of the recruiting game the minute he signed his own national letter of intent. The quarterback instead went flush when Rinaldi asked what excited him most about the upcoming season.

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AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackNewcomer O.J. Howard, an H-back, will bolster an already multitalented group catching rockets from AJ McCarron in 2013.
"My receivers," McCarron answered, laughing nervously. "I look out there and see the explosive guys out wide that can make plays."

McCarron won't lack for options in the passing game in 2013. All of his starters return, including fab freshman Amari Cooper. Cooper, Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones will be joined by a talented group of backups: DeAndrew White, Kenny Bell, Chris Black, Marvin Shinn and Cyrus Jones. Throw in the two wideout prospects and one tight end signed on Wednesday and the list of targets goes up. Robert Foster, the No. 2 receiver in the ESPN 150, and O.J. Howard, the second-ranked tight end/H-back in the country, will make an impact sooner or later.

"We have different types of receivers -- bigger guys, smaller guys that are fast," McCarron told Rinaldi. "It's going to be a fun year for our offense."

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