Editor's note: From now until the start of spring camp on March 16, TideNation will count down the 12 most intriguing players to watch on the Alabama football roster. Today we look at wide receiver Chris Black.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The offseason is about hype. With no games, few press conferences and no interaction with players, the time between the end of the regular season and spring practice is filled with conjecture and speculation about the depth chart, the rising stars and the players facing make-or-break seasons, among other topics.
Among the issues discussed by Alabama fans, none may be more talked about than wide receiver Chris Black. Though the rookie didn't play a single down during his first year on campus, he's one of the most highly anticipated attractions in 2013: Is he 100 percent? Where will he land on the depth chart? Is there any way he'll actually be better than fellow freshman Amari Cooper?
The questions, as ridiculous as they may seem from the outside looking in, are not unfounded. After all, Black was one of the most impressive youngsters during spring camp a year ago. He came to Alabama as the highest-rated receiver in the class, ranked above Cooper by most major recruiting services. Even Nick Saban, who rarely opens up about true freshman with the media, wasn't shy about discussing Black's talent. When he went down with a season-ending injury to his shoulder prior to the start of the regular season, Saban lamented the turn of events.
"He was doing a really good job and he wants to play so bad he can't see straight," Saban said at the time of the injury. "But this is one of the unfortunate things. We feel bad for him but everybody here is going to be very, very supportive. He's going to be an excellent player for us in the future."
Black came close to delivering a sneak preview toward the end of the season, though. With Kenny Bell and DeAndrew White out with serious injuries and Black cleared to practice, the rookie dressed out for the final two games of the season against Georgia and Notre Dame. It was a just-in-case scenario, but it illustrated just how valuable an asset he was thought to be. After all, why burn a redshirt for just two games? Why waste a year of eligibility unless he could make an impact?
The move never had to be made, but Black was able to practice with the team for more than a month. Dee Milliner, Alabama's former shutdown cornerback who is likely to be taken among the top five picks of next month's NFL draft, went against Black during bowl preparation. Like so many others, he came away impressed with his ability.
"Oh, great player for us," Milliner said of Black. "Wish he could have played for us this season. He could’ve been another receiver we could have used very much. But, unfortunately, he wasn’t able to. But the years to come you will see him."
Even with a stacked group of receivers -- a corps that includes up to seven potential contributors even with the imminent departure of Marvin Shinn -- Black is expected to make an impact whether that's from the slot position or as a reserve.
Starting Saturday, we'll see if Black can live up to the enormous hype. Like the backup quarterback who has never played a down but is clamored for by fans, we'll have to wait and see whether his talent is anything more than a mirage.