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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama has experienced receivers, a deep and talented backfield and a preseason All-Southeastern Conference tight end.
Quarterback Blake Sims and the third-ranked Crimson Tide simply haven't had to fully utilize that arsenal of playmakers in the past two games. Most of the throws have gone to wide receiver Amari Cooper, and tailbacks T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry haven't needed to do much against outclassed Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss.
That figures to change Saturday when the Tide (3-0) opens Southeastern Conference play against Florida (2-0, 1-0). It's a lot harder to win throwing it to the same guy over and over against an SEC defense, even one that just gave up 369 passing yards to Kentucky's Patrick Towles in a triple-overtime win.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said it's important to get other players more involved in the offense to build their confidence and "so the other team can't zero in on one guy."
"I think that there were other opportunities in the (Southern Miss) game for other guys," Saban said Monday. "Sometimes we didn't get him the ball. We did have a drop, but I also think that we're really trying to feature the players that we have. So far, what we've tried to do has been effective and it's worked. A lot of it is going through Amari Cooper."
Cooper is leading the nation with 33 catches and his 454 yards ranks third. That's more than triple the production of No. 2 receiver Christion Jones (nine catches, 133 yards).
Tight end O.J. Howard doesn't have a catch through three games.
Yeldon and Henry should be well rested entering the SEC schedule. They have each logged just 16 carries total in the past two games after both ran for 100-plus yards in the opener against West Virginia.
Alabama is expected to get starting wide receiver DeAndrew White back after he missed the past two games with a right shoulder injury. White had six catches in the first game, and Saban said he will practice and a decision on the receiver's status will be made late in the week.
"DeAndrew has been hurt but (he's) a guy that can really run on the top end there," Florida coach Will Muschamp said..
Cooper has collected most of the completions from Sims, who was making his first three career starts, and backup Jake Coker. Sims has completed 48 passes, 27 of them to Cooper (56 percent). Of his 646 passing yards, 369 have been compliments of Cooper (57 percent).
The receiver has also rushed for 29 yards on two end around plays. Muschamp said Cooper "has been targeted close to 50 times in three games, whether running or throwing."
None of that has been a factor for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to this point. The 1,705 yards is the most the Tide has produced through the first three games of a season, topping the old record of 1,646 set by the 1973 team.
The Tide does have veteran options for Sims in the passing game beyond Cooper. Jones had 63 catches the past two seasons and White has 54 in three years. Both are seniors.
Third-year sophomore Chris Black (five catches, 58 yards) arrived in the same recruiting class as Cooper and was even more highly touted than the Tide star.
And now White returns to the mix.
"He's a great playmaker for us," Cooper said. "If the defenses focus on me, other receivers are going to make plays. The running backs are going to make plays. It'll be a disadvantage for them."
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Florida, contributed to this report.
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