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SC on the Road: Alabama receivers look to catch on

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Some four weeks ago, as the college football season was just beginning, the idea was floated that Alabama had the best group of pass-catchers in the country. And the thought had some merit. Not only was Freshman All-American Calvin Ridley coming back, but so was the sure-handed ArDarius Stewart and the uber-talented O.J. Howard. Throw in grad transfer Gehrig Dieter and a cast of blue-chip underclassmen and the depth was certainly there.

Looking back on it now, though, the hype might have been overstated.

So far, Stewart is the only Alabama receiver living up to or surpassing expectations. His three touchdown receptions lead the team. Through the first two weeks of the season, he led the league in receiving yards. Ridley, meanwhile, hasn't been as sharp. While he's regained the team lead in receiving yards after an almost nonexistent showing against USC, he still has just one touchdown reception. And that would be OK if not for a lack of production elsewhere.

Howard, predictably, has gone back into hiding in the passing game. Yes, he's an asset to the offense as a blocker and demands the attention of the defense, but he hasn't been a primary target. After a supposed breakthrough performance against Clemson in the national title game, he's averaging only 2.3 receptions and 30.7 yards per game. He hasn't caught a touchdown pass and he's dropped 12.5 percent of the passes he's been thrown.

Meanwhile, Dieter has had issues dropping the football, too. He's been targeted 13 times and caught only three passes. He's shown nice speed and an ability to get open, but that doesn't matter if you can't convert.

Outside of that group of four (Stewart, Ridley, Dieter and Howard), no Alabama player has more than 20 yards receiving and none has recorded a touchdown reception.

In other words: It's time to get more people involved.

And before you assume that Robert Foster is the next man up, think again. Nick Saban was asked who would replace Stewart in the lineup on Saturday against Kent State as he recovers from an ankle injury. Saban said, "Robert will play some, but the guy that's been playing really well for us is Cam Sims."

Sims, a 6-foot-4 former four-star prospect from Louisiana, had a knee injury that slowed his progress early in his career, but now he's gained the attention of the coaching staff with his play during practice. Sims, Foster and true freshman Trevon Diggs could all get significant reps this weekend. Diggs is a particularly interesting case study in that Saban wants to continue to use him as a defensive back and kick returner.

Regardless of who steps up, whether it's a player off the bench or someone already in the starting lineup, there needs to be improvement at the position to help quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hurts, a freshman, has performed admirably, but his job would be a lot easier if the Tide receivers would start performing like the best group of pass-catchers in the country.