Cooper, Collins ready for Tide to roll, again
For the junior, who garnered more votes than any other player on the pre-season All-SEC team, the fact that the Crimson Tide lost back-to-back games to end the 2013 season was more than a surprise. It was shocking.
“I feel like those losses were very motivating to us,” said Cooper, who had helped the Crimson Tide win 24 of his first 25 games on campus. “Playing for Alabama, you have that winning atmosphere. You don’t know what it’s like to lose. You don’t know what it’s like to look in the mirror and see where you were as far as a losing team. I really didn’t know what it was like to lose a game, and I definitely think it humbled us.”
Cooper had a “down year” as a sophomore, catching 45 passes for 736 yards, which was a team high. As a freshman, Cooper was a Freshman All-American after catching 59 passes for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns, which set a new single-season record at Alabama that had been in place since 1950.
Because he is a junior, and one of the most experienced players back on offense, more is expected from Cooper, at least from a leadership standpoint.
“Coach (Nick) Saban wants the leaders to have a positive attitude, to have a winning mentality,” Cooper said. “He wants us to have a winning attitude, and if the leaders have that kind of attitude, it will spread to the rest of the team and we’ll be OK.”
There will be a new quarterback throwing to Cooper and his offensive mates this fall. AJ McCarron has graduated and left a big void for a unit that has a lot of talent in running back TJ Yeldon and three returning offensive line starters.
Alabama went through the spring with senior Blake Sims directing the offense, but Jake Coker arrived from Florida State in June to add his name to the race. Coker, a junior from Mobile, Ala., graduated from FSU in May, and has two years left to play.
Last season, he backed up Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, playing in seven games and throwing for 250 yards. Cooper has been working with Coker since he arrived in Tuscaloosa and said that he has done a good job of learning the offense.
Sims has the most experience with the current members of the team, but the offense will be different as Lane Kiffin was brought in this past offseason as coordinator.
“He’s got a strong arm,” Cooper said. “He overthrew me a couple of times. But, I would also say that I wasn’t expecting it. I think both of those guys (Sims and Coker) are capable of playing winning football for the University of Alabama.”
Whoever the quarterback is, there will be a stable of running backs to handoffs. Yeldon, a junior, leads the way with 26 games played and 11 starts. In his two seasons, he has already compiled 2,343 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground and caught another 31 passes for over 300 yards.
Derrick Henry, a 241-pound bruiser, came on late in 2013, rushing for 100 yards on just eight carries against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
Alabama returns five starters from a unit that was ranked among the nation’s best last year. Safety Landon Collins, a junior, is the leader, having garnered 70 tackles, eight pass break ups, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries last year.
A Parade All-American in high school, Collins was upbeat about the defense and what the team could do heading into the 2013 season.
“We’re keeping each other accountable for our actions and keeping our team on top of their ‘A’ game,” Collins said. “We can’t have a bunch of individuals on the team. I’m grateful for the leadership role I have on the team. A lot of these guys are in the same situations I was in and they’re all looking up to me as a leader.”
Senior Trey DePriest is another returner who provided 65 tackles last year, but lead with 13 starts. DePriest has made 26 starts during his career overall.
Christion Jones is back to handle the punt and kickoff returns. He is the SEC’s best in both categories, earning All-SEC recognition by averaging 10.1 yards on his punt returns and 28.7 on his kickoffs. He returned a kick for a touchdown against Ole Miss in 2011, and had one last season in the opener against Virginia Tech.
Alabama will have a new punter and new kicker this year, but Saban signed one of the nation’s best high school punters in JK Scott. Sophomore Adam Griffith is expected to be the kicker. He made five extra points last year and was 1-for-3 in field goal attempts, with one of the misses being the 57-yard attempt at Auburn that was returned 100 yards for a touchdown to give the Tigers the shocking victory over the Crimson Tide in the annual Iron Bowl.
The Crimson Tide opens the 2013 season against West Virginia in Atlanta two days after Ole Miss takes on Boise State. Alabama hosts Florida to open SEC play on Sept. 20, two weeks before visiting Oxford on Oct. 4.