Slade Bolden is Slade Bolden and not Jaylen Waddle.
Think Nick Saban is aware of that news flash?
One of college football's most dynamic players was lost for the season this past Saturday when Waddle, Alabama's dazzling junior receiver, fractured his ankle during the opening kickoff of the Crimson Tide's 48-17 hammering of Tennessee inside Neyland Stadium. The stunning setback resulted in Bolden replacing Waddle in the starting lineup, and the redshirt sophomore capitalized with six receptions for 94 yards on seven targets.
It was a breakout performance for sure, but nobody in Tuscaloosa is making any comparisons this week as the undefeated Crimson Tide prepare to host Mississippi State.
"You can't replace a guy like Jaylen Waddle and what his ability is," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday afternoon on a Zoom call. "It's no different than losing Allen Iverson if the guy is scoring 35 or 40 points a game. He's that kind of impact player, but we can do the things that Slade can do well, and he doesn't need to be anybody but himself.
"We don't put expectations on him. We just want him to be the best player that he can be relative to what he can do, and we're also wanting to get some of our other players at the receiver position to step up and also do some things that they're capable of doing,"
Bolden and Waddle are both 2018 signees who arrived at Alabama with drastically different degrees of hype. Waddle was a top-40 national prospect from Texas who had an instant impact as a freshman, averaging 18.8 yards per catch and 14.6 yards per punt return.
Southeastern Conference coaches tabbed Waddle as their freshman of the year.
Bolden was a borderline top-500 recruit out of West Monroe, Louisiana, a rare three-star signee in the Saban era, and redshirted as a freshman. His versatility is considered his top asset, which was occasionally put on display last season, when he had two receptions for 34 yards, four rushes for 10 yards and threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Miller Forristall in the 35-13 defeat of Tennessee inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"Slade is really quick, and a lot of guys like Slade become very effective slot players because they are quick out of the break and have good initial quickness and really good hands," Saban said. "He's very smart and heady in terms of his instincts and his ability to make quick decisions. He played all over the place in high school.
"He did a good job in this last game, and it's a good lesson to players that you're always one play away from being in the game."
Waddle was having a sensational season, compiling 25 receptions for 557 yards and a whopping 22.3 yards per catch. His season is over and likely his college career as well, given that he is expected to be selected in the top half of the first round of the 2021 NFL draft.
This past weekend, Pro Football Network projected Waddle going seventh overall to the Miami Dolphins, while CBS had him going 12th to the Detroit Lions.
"The surgery was very, very successful, and the long-term prognosis is very good," Saban said. "Derrick Henry had this surgery here and Kenyan Drake had this surgery here. It's a difficult timetable to know when a guy can come back from something like this, so that's something that is going to be ongoing. It will probably be six to eight weeks before he can even start heavy rehab."
Said quarterback Mac Jones: "I think a lot of guys saw him after the game in the ambulance while we were walking to the bus. I got to say a few words to him, but it's hard to walk up to one of your closest friends and see him crying like that."
Jones was named Monday as the SEC co-offensive player of the week after completing 25 of 31 passes for 387 yards against the Volunteers, sharing the honor with Auburn junior receiver Seth Williams. Jones earned weekly league honors against Texas A&M and Georgia as well.
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