Alabama's Stewart bigger, eager to build on last season's finish

Alabama's Stewart bigger, eager to build on last season's finish

August 19th, 2016 by David Paschall in Sports - College
Alabama redshirt junior receiver ArDarius Stewart looks to build on an impressive closing run last season.

Alabama redshirt junior receiver ArDarius Stewart looks to...

Photo by Amelia B. Barton Amelia B. Barto

ArDarius Stewart was a 6-foot-1, 190-pound receiver last season at Alabama.

Now he's a 6-1, 200-pound receiver with the Crimson Tide, and he's not really sure why.

"I didn't try to do it," Stewart said of his larger frame in a recent news conference. "It just happened. I guess with age comes the weight."

A bigger Stewart is hoping to be better as a redshirt junior, though it's hard to find much fault with last season. A starter in all 15 games, Stewart amassed 63 receptions for 700 yards and four touchdowns.

Overshadowed at times by Calvin Ridley's dazzling debut with 89 receptions for 1,045 yards, Stewart was clutch during Alabama's stretch run to the national title. He caught a 34-yard touchdown pass to give the Tide some breathing room at Auburn, caught a 32-yard score the next week against Florida in the SEC title game and helped open up the offense against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl with seven receptions.

In the 45-40 win over Clemson in the title game, Stewart made an acrobatic catch down the sideline early in the fourth quarter. His acrobatic catch midway through the season against Tennessee helped enable the Tide to drive for the winning score in a 19-14 triumph.

This year's crop of Alabama receivers is expected to be deeper than a year ago, even with the recent transfer of redshirt freshman Daylon Charlot. The Crimson Tide welcomed back Ridley, Stewart, Cam Sims and Robert Foster, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, and they added graduate transfer Gehrig Dieter, who had 94 catches for 1,033 yards a year ago at Bowling Green, including seven for 133 in an opening loss to Tennessee.

"That's all up to the coaches as far as how they handle us," Stewart said. "My job is to do the best I can when I'm in the game. We have a lot of depth, and we're trying to get all our guys rolling, because the more depth you have, the easier it's going to be."

Stewart had 12 receptions as a redshirt freshman in 2014, when Blake Sims was the primary quarterback, and the overwhelming majority of his catches last season were from Jake Coker. Now he's catching passes in practice from Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell, Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts, and he will be fine with whoever claims that job.

"The job of a receiver is to catch it how it comes," Stewart said. "It doesn't matter who throws it."

Alabama practiced Thursday for two hours in full pads as the team continues to prepare for Saturday's second scrimmage.

Saban 'losing sleep'

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban told ESPN.com that he is having a difficult time with defensive back Maurice Smith's decision to transfer to Georgia as a graduate student for his final season of eligibility. Smith made two career starts for the Crimson Tide, who went 37-5 with two SEC championships and a national title during his time in Tuscaloosa.

"I have been coaching for 43 years, and to have what happened with Maurice Smith and his family is what I lose sleep over," Saban said. "We've got 53 players in the NFL and a whole bunch of other ones who aren't in the NFL and are very successful, but what I lay awake at night and think about is where did I fail a guy like Maurice Smith? What didn't I do, or what could I have done better?"

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.