TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Levi Wallace confidently trotted back to the huddle assuming he had done enough to break up the play.
The pass was over Wallace and behind Devonta Smith’s head, so there was no way it could have been a reception, Wallace thought.
“They’re like, ‘Dang Smitty, good catch,'” Wallace recalled. “I’m like, ‘what are y’all talking about? You know he dropped it.’ Then I went back and looked at the film, and I was like, ‘Dang!’ He’s a great receiver.”
Put that catch on Smith’s growing practice highlight reel.
“I got Mossed,” Wallace said, smiling.
Smith is one of three freshmen wide receivers making a big-time contribution for Alabama football this season. Smith, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III have all been too good to keep off the field this year as the Crimson Tide has adopted sort of a “three-in, three-out” type of rotation with the freshmen and veterans — Calvin Ridley, Cam Sims and Robert Foster.
The rotation has been unlike any Alabama has done in the past, and it makes sense. Alabama football will lose Sims and Foster, who are both seniors. Ridley, a junior, is likely to enter the NFL Draft after this season as one of the top receiver prospects in the country.
The experience the three freshmen are getting this fall will make them veterans when they step into even bigger roles in 2018 and beyond.
“You mean Jeudy, ‘Shake ’em off the line.’ Ruggs, Touchdown City. And Smitty, Stick ’em is what I call him,” Wallace said. “They’re great receivers. I think they’re going to have great careers here at the University of Alabama. Very explosive. Hard to guard. I think they’ve helped me this year as much as I’ve helped them. Just great talent that we already have, just added to them. They’re great players and I appreciate them.”
Jeudy, a 5-star prospect who enrolled in January, made a splash during spring workouts and A-Day. He follows in the footsteps of Amari Cooper and Ridley as dynamic South Florida receivers who have go-to abilities.
Jeudy has 12 catches for 208 yards and 1 touchdown. He’s averaging 17.3 yards per catch. If Ridley does leave this season, Jeudy has the talent to step in and be a feature player for the offense next season.
“He kind of brings that same attitude and swagger that Calvin brings, that South Florida attitude that I feel like is really infectious and really great to have in a teammate,” Alabama tight end Hale Hentges said of Jeudy.
Ruggs, a 4-star prospect out of Montgomery, Ala., only catches touchdowns. Ruggs has 112 receiving yards, and all five of his catches have gone for touchdowns this year, including a 60-yard score against Tennessee this past Saturday.
Alabama football has worked hard to find ways to get the ball in Ruggs’ hand. Along with wide receiver, Ruggs has been back deep on punt returns and kickoff returns.
— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) October 25, 2017
Smith, a 4-star out of Amite, La., has caught 3 passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. Alabama athletics often released highlight videos from scrimmages and practices during the preseason that featured Smith making highlight catches (23-second mark in video below).
“He makes some insane catches in practice, so he’s probably got the most Odell (Beckham) to him out of anyone I’ve ever seen,” Hentges said. “He’ll make some one-handed catches and some insane plays.”
— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) August 16, 2017
The next evolution for these young receivers is becoming better blockers. Alabama football coach Nick Saban doesn’t play receivers who can’t blow on the perimeter in the running game or in the quick screen game.
All three have shown a willingness to block during their time on the field.
“They’re doing a good job (of blocking),” Saban said. “I think they’re playing with a little more toughness, they’re trying to be physical. I think the older guys on the team who are receivers have set a good example for those guys and have really done a good job of helping bring those guys along with their leadership and the example that they set for them. And their production sort of bares that out.
“So we’re very pleased with the way they’ve responded, the way they’ve improved and the way they’ve played.”