Above and Beyond: Who is exceeding expectations for Alabama?
A third of the way into the season, Alabama is coming off their bye week at 4-0, ready to head into a six-game stretch that will show whether this team is playoff material or not. As there was no game last week to look back on, this seems like a good time to analyze who has met preseason expectations and who needs to step it up.
- Blake Sims: Remember the quarterback competition? It seems like a distant memory, as Sims has operated Lane Kiffin’s offense like a Formula 1 driver. The senior has completed more than 73 percent of his passes and has thrown just 2 interceptions through the first four games. With nearly 1,098 yards and 8 TD, Sims is on pace for one of the best passing seasons in Alabama history.
- Amari Cooper: We knew the junior receiver was good, but no one anticipated the record-shattering pace he’s set through four games. Already having registered 43 catches for 655 yards and 5 TD, Cooper is on schedule for 129 grabs, 1,965 yards and 15 TD. Those kinds of numbers would put him squarely in the Heisman conversation if he can keep up the production.
- Landon Collins: Yes, Collins was a preseason All-SEC pick, but he’s played like an All-America and top NFL draft prospect in the early going. He’s leading the team in tackles from the defensive backfield, an impressive accomplishment as part of a program that churns out NFL linebackers at factory levels. He also has one of Alabama’s interceptions on the year (the team has only registered 2 INT in total) and it came at a crucial juncture against Florida.
NOT MAKING THE GRADE
- O.J. Howard: This has been written about ad nauseum, but the sophomore tight end was expected to be a huge part of Alabama’s new and improved offense. What no one expected was that his role would be clearing holes for running backs and protecting Sims in the pocket. Howard only has 2 catches for 22 yards, with both grabs coming against Florida. Things can only go up for Howard as the season progresses, but he’s far from the production that everyone expected.
- Secondary wide receivers: One of the reasons Cooper has been making it rain like he has is because there’s no one else to catch the ball. Howard does not seem to be a part of the gameplan, while Christion Jones and DeAndrew White have both battled nagging injuries. The two combined have half as many catches (43 to 22) as Cooper does on his own. Eventually, defenses will start beating Cooper up enough that Sims will have to find other targets. Will the two seniors be ready?
- The pass rushers: Through two games, the Crimson Tide were well ahead of their sack pace from a season ago. However, they’ve tailed off in the last two games. After registering 6 sacks total against West Virginia and Florida Atlantic, they combined for just a single quarterback takedown against Southern Mississippi and Florida (although they did have 10 QB hurries against Southern Miss). Especially against Mississippi this week, putting pressure on passers should be a renewed priority for Kirby Smart’s unit.