Crimson Tide offense poised for growth

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- AJ McCarron was almost giddy when he spoke with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi on the morning of national signing day. Alabama's junior quarterback has won two national championships as a starter, and he broke all kinds of passing records this past season. And despite all he has accomplished, the steely, strong-armed veteran had something to get worked up about, something to look forward to next season.

McCarron wasn't smiling because of the big board of recruits being filled up in the Alabama football offices. He checked out of the recruiting game the minute he signed his own national letter of intent. The quarterback instead went flush when Rinaldi asked what excited him most about the upcoming season.

"My receivers," McCarron answered, laughing nervously. "I look out there and see the explosive guys out wide that can make plays."

McCarron won't lack for options in the passing game in 2013. All of his starters return, including fab freshman Amari Cooper. Cooper, Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones will be joined by a talented group of backups: DeAndrew White, Kenny Bell, Chris Black, Marvin Shinn and Cyrus Jones. Throw in the two wideout prospects and one tight end signed on Wednesday and the list of targets goes up. Robert Foster, the No. 2 receiver in the ESPN 150, and O.J. Howard, the second-ranked tight end/H-back in the country, will make an impact sooner or later.

"We have different types of receivers -- bigger guys, smaller guys that are fast," McCarron told Rinaldi. "It's going to be a fun year for our offense."

It's going to be a fun year for McCarron. The junior turned down a shot at the NFL to come back for his senior year not only to win another championship but to better his draft stock. With more tools on offense, his numbers, and thusly his draft outlook, could improve.

By welcoming in a handful of new weapons -- including five-star athlete Derrick Henry and four-star running back Alvin Kamara -- the 2013 signing class could be a sign of things to come. The Alabama offense, which broke out of its shell some last season, might be poised to run away from it's old "Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust" history.

"A couple of years ago, Alabama wasn't passing much but it's changed," Howard told reporters on signing day. "They're opening it up a little more. We can spread the field and you never know what can happen."

He described his roommate, Derrick Henry, as a "freak." The 6-foot-3 athlete will start his career at running back, where he set the career mark for rushing yards in the country at Yulee High in Florida, but could end up playing elsewhere given his unique skill set.

"He scares me sometimes just walking around. I think he's going to do some crazy things this year. He's a guy that works really hard. He gets up at night and does push ups. He's going to do a lot this year."

Raheem Falkins, maybe the most unheralded of the skill players in the signing class, said he hopes to have a career like former Alabama great Julio Jones. The 6-foot-4 wideout from New Orleans called Jones a "great worker" he'd like to emulate.

"He set records and tried to contribute," he said of Jones. "He kept going and going. I just hope I could be half the player he was."

Or, better yet, half the player Cooper was in 2012. The former four-star wideout from Florida broke all of Jones' freshman records en route to winning the national championship.

"I applaud him for that," Falkins said. "He came in and did a fantastic job. We've had a lot of conversations. I look forward to working out with him.

Falkins said the best advice Cooper gave him was to "work hard and compete." And with so many talented receivers on board, it will take that to separate himself.

For as giddy as McCarron was about the possibilities of next season, he was quick to point out the biggest flaw with high expectations among rookies. In the end, they haven't proved anything.

"Don't come in and expect anything," McCarron said. "I think that's one of the biggest problems some recruits have is they come in expecting to get playing time or expecting to already have stripes on their helmet. You've got to earn it around here."