No. 2 Bama striving to replace (some of) Waddle’s production

Alabama isn’t looking for Slade Bolden to be another Jaylen Waddle.

Not even the second-ranked Crimson Tide has that kind of depth. Alabama (5-0) must carry on without Waddle starting Saturday against Mississippi State after losing one of the nation’s top receivers to a broken right ankle on the opening kickoff of the Tennessee game.

“You can’t replace a guy like Jaylen Waddle in terms of what his ability is,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “It’s no different than losing Allen Iverson, a guy that scores 30-40 points a game. He’s that kind of impact player.”

Bolden, a sophomore who had had few passes thrown his way, replaced Waddle at receiver and on punt returns against the Volunteers. The former high school quarterback wound up with six catches for 94 yards after logging just two catches in his first 18 career games.

Waddle had surgery in Birmingham Saturday night after the game and Saban said it “was very, very successful.” The junior is expected to miss the rest of the season and may not play for Alabama again since he’s a highly rated NFL prospect.

Saban said it’s the same procedure former Tide tailbacks Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake had during their college careers. He said it will likely be 6-8 weeks before Waddle can start “real heavy rehab.”

“The long-term prognosis for his surgery is very good,” Saban said.

The long-term prognosis for Alabama’s offense remains good too. The Tide still has quarterback Mac Jones and no shortage of weapons surrounding him.

Bolden joins receivers DeVonta Smith and John Metchie III as key cogs in one of the nation’s top passing games. Alabama also has standout tailback Najee Harris to anchor an effective running game.

Waddle still leads the team with 557 yards and ranked as one of the nation’s top punt returners the past two seasons, though he seldom got the chance the first half of this season.

Smith is close behind with 45 catches for 556 yards while Metchie is averaging 23.8 yards on 21 catches and has been another deep threat.

Saban said he expected to visit with Waddle later Monday or on Tuesday. Jones and other teammates spoke with Waddle after the game.

“I got to say a few words to him, but it’s hard to go walk up to one of your closest friends and see him crying like that just knowing that his season’s kind of over,” the quarterback said. “He doesn’t know what his path looks like going forward, but just knowing Jaylen for the past couple of years, he’s one of the hardest workers I know, and he’s going to bounce back from something like this.

“That’s kind of what I told him.”

Alabama has several freshman receivers who could vie for playing time, including Javon Baker, Traeshon Holden and Thaiu Jones-Bell.

But Bolden figures to assume much of Waddle’s role on both offense and in the return game. He had been used a few times last season as a Wildcat quarterback. Saban praised his quickness, hands and instincts.

Bolden is versatile enough to have even lined up on defense in spring practice, Jones said, adding that “the guy knows a lot about football.”

“I always like watching his (high school) highlights because it gets me pretty fired up. He’s making plays,” Jones said. “So when you have somebody that can make plays like that and put him wherever you want on the field, he’s super versatile.

“I’ve got a lot of banked reps with him. He’s a guy if I ever need to throw, whether it’s at 12 at night or 6 in the morning, he’ll be there. So I always appreciate Slade and he’s going to do a good job. He’s just getting started.”

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