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July 31, 2012

Fall camp preview: Offensive skill positions

Tidesports.com's annual fall camp preview continues with a look at the skill-position players on the offensive side of the ball. Throughout the week before practice begins, Tidesports will take a close look at both lines of scrimmage, as well as the skill positions on both sides of the ball. Link to each previous feature at bottom.

Kenny Bell, A.J. McCarron and Eddie Lacy will be key to Alabama's offensive success this season.

The quarterbacks
Junior AJ McCarron returns after a stellar season as a first-year starter in 2011 in which he completed two-third of his passes for over 2,600 yards and a TD-INT ratio of better than 3-1. McCarron (at right) enters camp coming off an impressive albeit abbreviated performance at the Manning Passing Academy at Nicholls State in Thibodaux, La. The backup picture behind McCarron is a muddy picture, with inexperience being the common thread between redshirt freshman Phillip Ely and incoming freshman Alec Morris. It will be interesting to see if running back Blake Sims, who has taken practice snaps at quarterback in the past, gets another look at that position.

The backfield
The best news of the summer for the Crimson Tide was that Eddie Lacy's recovery from turf toe surgery went well. The junior is by far UA's most experienced running back after rushing for 674 yards last year despite playing through an injury hindrance. A healthy Lacy (at right) would allow freshman backs behind him to progress more at a freshman pace. Junior Jalston Fowler and freshmen Demetrius Hart and T.J. Yeldon give UA three distinct styles to suit a variety of situational needs. Given the UA offense's track record for playing the No. 2 running back extensively, however, one of the three figures to play more than just a situational role.

The receivers & tight ends
Wide receivers Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones lead the least experienced group of wide receivers Nick Saban has brought to a UA fall camp since 2008, when freshmen Julio Jones and Marquis Maze emerged as two of Alabama's three top players at the position. Bell and Norwood combined for 28 receptions last year, 17 by Bell, who saw action in every game. The H-back position, which became a frequent target of McCarron's late last season, includes several candidates including Harrison Jones and Brent Calloway. Tight end Michael Williams (at right) is the most game-experienced pass catcher UA has, even though his role calls for being more of a blocker.

Key reserves
For one reason or another, some of those to watch in fall camp include wide receiver DeAndrew White, running backs Sims and Fowler (at right), and quarterback Ely. As a third-year sophomore, White's opportunity to claim more of a role has never been better. The Texas native is an explosive athlete who has posted impressive numbers in scrimmage work at times, but hasn't yet cracked the regular playing rotation. Does Sims remain part of the depth picture at running back, or might he join Ely and Morris in the competition behind McCarron at quarterback? How might the role of Fowler change or expand? Calloway's move to H-back late in spring drills makes him an interesting fall camper to watch as well.

What must be done
Establishing a playing rotation at the wide receiver position will be one task in camp. Bell and Norwood are the most experienced options, but competition at that position figures to be wide open. Five to six receivers typically rotate into games. Without a doubt, identifying a No. 2 quarterback and a new H-back will be two camp priorities for the UA coaching staff as well. No quarterback on the roster other than McCarron has taken a snap in game action, and the options at H-back, including Jones (at right) aren't experienced, either. Finally, which freshmen, if any, are capable of contributing this fall? At the end of spring drills, Saban identified two early enrollers -- Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper -- as possibilities.

McCarron, Lacy and Williams are all proven Southeastern Conference players at quarterback, running back and tight end, respectively. That trio represents the core of Alabama's experience among players who handle the ball. One of McCarron's challenges will be establishing a chemistry with pass catchers who will be stepping into larger roles not only at receiver, but at H-back and in the backfield as well. Norwood (at right) looks to build on an impressive BCS title game performance. A veteran offensive line should help make things easier for the younger players at the skill positions, especially early in the season when mental mistakes tend to be more frequent.


Monday's preview: Offensive line

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