Saban wants ball in Amari Cooper's hands

Anniston StarMarch 26, 2014 

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- One thing Alabama's new quarterback won't have to worry about is having enough weapons.

The Crimson Tide's offense will feature a stable of game-changing skill players surrounding whomever succeeds graduated quarterback AJ McCarron, with none more important than wide receiver Amari Cooper.

Cooper, a junior from Miami, returns after leading the Tide in receptions and receiving yards his first two seasons on campus.

While the 6-foot-1 Cooper is listed at 204 pounds, he said he worked to put on five or six pounds of muscle during the offseason, and as a result, his weight is between 208 and 210 pounds. Last season, he was listed at 202 pounds.

"Amari's really played outstanding football here for us for two years," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "About halfway through his freshman year, he really became an outstanding player. He got very confident in what he was doing.

"Last year, I thought he had a very good year, especially the second half of the year. So far this spring, he's been phenomenal in the offseason program as well as in the first three practices that we've had."

Saban added Cooper will

continue to be a featured part of the Tide's offense.

"Obviously, he's a guy that we want to get the ball to as many times as we can," Saban said. "(Offensive coordinator) Lane (Kiffin) will do a really good job of getting the ball in the playmakers' hands. I think between the backs that we have and the receivers that we have and Coop's history of being a very consistent performer, I would think that he'll have an outstanding year this year."

Cooper is in the running to become the best wide receiver during Saban's tenure at Alabama, a crown most thought former Tide star Julio Jones would wear forever.

While Cooper may not be as physically imposing as Jones, who was listed at 6-4 and 220 pounds during his last season at Alabama in 2010, he has proven himself at least as productive through his first two seasons.

As a freshman in 2012, Cooper became just the fourth player in Alabama history to record a 1,000-yard receiving season, joining Jones, DJ Hall (who did it twice) and David Palmer. His 11 touchdown catches also broke the Tide's single-season record for touchdown receptions that had stood for 62 years (Al Lary with 10 in 1950).

His 59 receptions for 1,000 yards yards broke Jones' freshman records set in 2008 (58/924).

But like Jones, Cooper also hit a bit of a sophomore slump, mostly because of nagging toe and foot injuries. Even so, Cooper finished the 2014 season with a team-high in receptions (45) and receiving yards (736).

Still, if he is able to remain healthy, Cooper could set more records this season. Currently at 104 career receptions, Hall's school record of 194 receptions (2004-2007) may be out reach unless he returns for his senior season. Cooper needs 76 more to pass Jones (179) for second all-time.

Cooper would need 1,188 yards to set the school record for receiving yards (Hall with 2,923). With 15 career touchdown receptions, Cooper needs only four touchdown catches to pass Dennis Homan's record of 18 (1965-1967).

Sticking with the Jones comparison, Jones ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL Combine, and the Atlanta Falcons took him with the sixth pick of the draft.

While his times are unofficial, Cooper said he was clocked in the 4.3s following Alabama's pro day this year.

"On one clock it was a 4.31," he said. "It was my first 40 -- 4.31, 4.35 and 4.38."

For perspective, during the NFL combine last month, only one wide receiver ran in the 4.3 range -- Oregon State's Brandin Cooks at 4.33. USC's Marqise Lee ran 4.52. Clemson's Sammy Watkins, who many believe to be the top wide out in this class, was clocked at 4.43.

But Cooper thinks he can run even faster than his unofficial numbers.

"It's all about technique in the 40," he said. "I'm trying to get faster and I guess you guys will see whenever I decide to come out (for the draft)."

That day may come sooner rather than later if Cooper puts up big numbers during his junior season. He is expected to be one of the top wide receiver prospects in the nation with many believing 2014 will be his last season with the Tide.

In fact, when ranking the top underclassmen (non-draft eligible players), ESPN.com's Scouts Inc. analysts list Cooper as the No. 1 wide receiver and the fifth best prospect overall.

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