Alabama has to replace two first-round draft picks at the wide receiver position this season. It helps that it has two future first-round draft picks returning in DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, but less experienced players will need to step into the third and fourth receiver roles.
At the midway point of the preseason, sophomore John Metchie has seen the most consistent reps as the No. 3 receiver with the first team, while redshirt sophomore Slade Bolden and true freshman Javon Baker have also performed well and made a push for playing time.
“We have several receivers that are doing a nice job,” said Alabama head coach Saban. “Obviously, we lost two great players and we have two great players coming back, and those two guys are both playing like great players. Metchie has done a really, really good job, so we have a lot of confidence in him. Slade Bolden has done a good job. We have confidence in him. Those are the experienced guys.
“And then these freshmen — Javon Baker has shown promise. I just think they need to develop consistency in A) knowing what to do, and B) going out there and playing with confidence. So far, Baker’s had the most continuity. He’s missed the least amount of practices. He’s been out there the most. He’s a very competitive guy. He’s done a good job so far.
“So, I’m pleased with that entire corps. Xavier Williams has shown improvement. The whole group, I think, is showing some marked improvement from last year, and they all need to continue to grow and develop. But I’m pleased with the group.”
Outside of the experienced duo of Smith and Waddle, who combined for 1,816 yards and 20 touchdowns on 101 receptions in 2019, the only returning Crimson Tide receivers that caught a pass last season were Metchie (4 for 23 yards) and Bolden (2 for 34). Alabama also lost a pair of wideouts to transfer this offseason in Tyrell Shavers and Chadarius Townsend.
So, Alabama is going to depend on some inexperienced players in the passing game this fall, including a true freshman or two. Baker has generated some buzz since stepping on campus, and the other two newcomers at the position, Traeshon Holden and Thaiu Jones-Bell, have flashed at times, too. All in all, the Tide has eight scholarship receivers for 2020.
But Metchie, Bolden and Baker seem like the top candidates for larger roles now that Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III are in the NFL. Metchie and Bolden appeared in all 13 games a year ago, with Bolden also serving as the Wildcat quarterback and a core special teams player. He doesn’t get mentioned as much as his teammates, but Bolden will do whatever is asked of him.
“Just how confident Slade is,” Smith said earlier this preseason. “Slade goes out there every day knowing that he can play inside, outside, just doing everything he can. Just the way that he handles himself. He goes out there very confident and comes out to work every day.”
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