By Elliot Propes | Senior Staff Reporter
Alabama may have a true freshman or redshirt freshman starting at quarterback, but it doesn’t matter to redshirt junior ArDarius Stewart or sophomore Calvin Ridley.
The wide receivers are familiar with the uncertainty behind center.
“I’ve been through it,” Stewart said. “I’m comfortable with the guys. But for the running right now, whoever gets in, I’m rooting for ‘em.”
After the departure of Heisman-winning running back Derrick Henry, Stewart and Ridley have carried a lot of the offensive load. The receiving core has wracked up a total of 574 yards and five touchdowns in the first two games. Stewart leads the team with 203 yards and three touchdowns, while Ridley follows with 138 yards and a touchdown.
Stewart has been the one with the big catches. He is averaging 22.6 yards per catch. He caught a long 71-yard catch against Southern Cal and then grabbed a 52-yard pass against Western Kentucky.
Stewart doesn’t just outrun defensive backs. He runs over them. Stewart has a rather large frame for his speed, standing at 6-foot-1 and weighing in at 204 pounds.
“When he gets the ball, he runs so hard, he just runs guys over and stuff,” Ridley said. “I just said to myself, ‘Gosh, he looks like a running back.’ He’s physical, pretty physical.”
Not only has Stewart led his team on the field, but he also said the area in which he has grown the most is off the field.
Ridley called Stewart the leader of the Alabama receiving corps.
“He motivates everybody in practice; he motivates everybody in the game,” Ridley said. “He knows everything. He knows plays. He’s just one of those guys you can go to, talk to, if you don’t know what you’re doing and stuff like that. It just pumps everybody up.”
Ridley will not try to be outdone, though. He was named on the first-team All-SEC Preseason team after putting up 1,045 receiving yards in his freshman season for an Alabama record. Former Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper was the only other freshman to ever eclipse the 1,000 yard-mark his freshman season.
“You could tell, [Ridley is] what everybody’s talking about. He’s all that,” LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White said at SEC Media Days. “He’s a great receiver. He’s very similar to one of the greats they had a couple of years ago so, I mean, I expect big things from him this year and look forward to competing against him.”
It’s not just opposing defensive backs who have trouble against the Alabama receiving core. Alabama’s own defense has to practice against the group every week.
“It’s very difficult,” senior defensive back Eddie Jackson said. “We don’t just have two. We have a couple: Robert Foster, Cam Sims, Trevon Diggs. Guys like that. They come out and compete and give you their best every day. It just helps us get better as a secondary and a defensive unit.”
While a lot of the focus can be centered on the quarterbacks’ production, the players around either candidate can make a big difference.
Last year, former Alabama quarterback Jake Coker had Henry in the backfield, which took some of the pressure off of him. This year, people can look at the Stewart-Ridley duo and assume the same.
That being said, it will be important for the two receivers to produce. A quarterback alone will not be able to lead his team to victory over a ranked SEC team on the road, especially against Ole Miss, a program that has back-to-back victories over Alabama.
“I don’t think there’s any question about that it’s a challenge. It’s always a challenge to play on the road,” Saban said. “I think it’s going to be about what the entire offensive team will be able to do around the quarterback.”
Source:: The Crimson White Sports