TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — University of Alabama quarterback Mac Jones knows a thing or two about how hard it is to be thrust into a game you weren't expected to play much in, as he did it last year against Tennessee when Tua Tagovailoa went down.
That's why he can relate so much to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Slade Bolden who had to replace Jaylen Waddle, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury, in this season's contest against the Volunteers over the weekend.
"Yeah, I mean that’s not an easy thing to do, to come in not knowing that you’re really going to play a lot," Jones told the media via Zoom on Monday. "Slade hadn’t been playing as much as he probably would want to, and he came in and I told him, ‘It’s a game, and you’re ready to roll, so just your job,’ and he did exactly that and some. Just going on from here, he’s kind of stepped into a bigger role. And I’ve been in that position before, too, but it doesn’t really change. You just go out there and do your job, and Slade’s been doing that since he’s got here.
"He’s one of the mot improved players on our team, and he’s going to continue to grow and improve.”
Bolden finished the Crimson Tide's 48-17 victory with six catches on seven targets for 94 yards, which were both career-bests. Now, he did fumble on the Crimson Tide's opening drive of the second half and dropped a pass in the end zone from the back up signal caller Bryce Young late in the fourth quarter.
But those things can surely be corrected in practice this week as the Crimson Tide's attention turns to Mississippi State, who it will face off against inside Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday at 6 p.m (CT).
The pressure of producing and replicating a player like Waddle is great but Alabama coach Nick Saban has a message for the West Monroe, La. native — be yourself.
"You can’t replace a guy like Jaylen Waddle in terms of what his ability is. It’s no different than losing Allen Iverson, a guy that scores 30-40 points a game," Saban said. "He’s that kind of impact player. But we can do the things that (Bolden) 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 how can we get some of our other players at the receiver position to step up and also do some things that they’re capable of doing that would help us be able to continue to have success with the receivers that we have and the passing game that we’ve had so far and the balance that we try to create with that passing game on offense.”
Bolden's skillset is super unique to the Crimson Tide offense as he can line up at any of the wide receiver positions, he's quick enough to run some jet sweeps, and even play quarterback.
Remember last year's Tennessee matchup when Bolden lined up in the wildcat formation and threw a jump pass to tight end Miller Forristall for a touchdown?
Don't be surprised if offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian dials up some more gadget plays for Bolden in the near future as another wrinkle into an offense that is one of the most dynamic units in the country.
As for the most part, fans will likely see Bolden in the slot with senior DeVonta Smith on the outside along with sophomore John Metchie II.
"Slade's really quick," Saban said. "A lot of guys like Slade become very effective slot kind of players because they're quick out of a break. They've got good initial quickness. Really good hands. Very smart and heady in terms of their instincts and their ability to make quick decisions. That's something that fit well for him. I know he played quarterback _ he played all over the place in high school. But he's done a good job. He did a good job in the game, and he's one the guys that I was referring to when I said a lot of the guys had to step up.
"I guess it's a good lesson for young players that you're one play away from being in the game and that's why it's important for you to prepare the way you need to prepare. But Slade's got some maturity and has some experience and really stepped up well for us in the game."
This practice week will most certainty be unlike anything else for Bolden, preparing to see more snaps on Saturday than he has seen in a single game in his entire Crimson Tide career, but Jones believes he is the right guy for the job to pick up where Waddle, arguably the most electrifying player in all of college football, left off.
"I don’t know if there’s anything specific," Jones said of what the college football world needs to know about Bolden. "He’s a guy who knows what to do. He knows where to line up. He’s played a lot of different positions. Shoot, he’s even played defense before in the spring practices before. The guy knows a lot about football. If you go and watch his high school highlights, I always like watching his highlights because it gets me pretty fired up. He’s making plays. 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."