How big is this week’s SEC Championship Game?
Big enough that Alabama coach Nick Saban said Sunday he would “revisit” his decision to redshirt true freshman Chris Black after the Crimson Tide lost wide receiver Kenny Bell to a broken leg against Auburn.
Black, not Amari Cooper, was the newcomer Saban and players were raving about before training camp started. Black, however, injured his shoulder on the third day at camp, during the open Fan Day practice, on a hard hit from freshman linebacker Ryan Anderson.
The shoulder injury required surgery and Saban pretty much ruled him out for the year – even after the receiver began practicing earlier this month in a black (no contact) jersey.
When reporters asked Saban about Black’s arrival at practice, the coach indicated he would be brought along slowly.
“He’s cleared for activity but he’s not cleared for contact,” Saban said a couple weeks ago. “He really is not cleared to play yet, he’s just out there doing drills. Maybe in another month or so he would be cleared for contact then we could make some decision.
“I think it might be kind of foolish to play him because it would probably be a bowl game-only type of thing. But we’ll make that decision when the time comes. It’s a medical decision right now.”
But a day after losing big-play threat Bell, the coach acknowledged Black’s status at least would be evaluated again.
“Chris Black is a guy that has been cleared medically to maybe come back and play,” the coach said Sunday. “He has been practicing for two or three weeks. We may have to revisit whether we decide to redshirt him or go ahead and let him play.”
Cooper, like Black a Florida native, has had a tremendous freshman season. He leads Alabama in receptions (45), receiving yards (767) and touchdown receptions (8).
Georgia coach Mark Richt said Cooper is Alabama’s “go-to guy.”
“Some of the long‑yardage receptions have been just launching it out there deep and him making a play,” Richt said Sunday. “He’s also caught a couple balls, shorter‑range balls, made people miss, has taken it to the house or had some big plays. He’s very versatile.”
Cooper did not, however, lead the team in yards per catch. That was the speedster Bell’s specialty. Bell averaged more than 25 yards per reception and was quarterback AJ McCarron’s best deep threat.
“Kenny has done a fantastic job for us,” Saban said Sunday. “He has great vertical speed, makes a lot of catches, certainly complements the other guys that we have.”
Saban noted the early loss of Black, along with season-ending injuries to Bell and DeAndrew White, stretched the receiving corps.
“That’s always a difficult circumstance,” the coach said. “But we have other good players that have played consistently for us this year. We’re going to try to put them in the best position to utilize the skills they have and hopefully make some plays for us.
“AJ has done a great job of getting the ball to the right guy and hopefully will continue to be able to do that.”
Richt said all of Alabama’s receivers “do a great job” – mentioning Kevin Norwood, Christion Jones and tight end Michael Williams.
“Let’s face it, they’re the highest team in the SEC as far as pass efficiency,” the Georgia coach said. “… They’ve just been very impressive. To run the ball the way they do, be that efficient throwing the ball, they have to have a bunch of good receivers – and you can see it.”