Alabama's Maze thriving as go-to receiver
Alabama's Marquis Maze is not Julio Jones. He's about a half-foot shorter, considerably lighter and has a very different style.
The diminutive Maze has most certainly replaced Jones as the second-ranked Crimson Tide's go-to guy in the passing game, and there's not even a close second at the moment.
''He's a completely different type of player'' than Jones, Alabama coach Nick Saban said. ''We always try to utilize his skills in terms of what he can do and we continue to try to do that.
''He's got a little bit of running back in him and really good running skills, but he is a good receiver. He does have good speed. He's a guy that has emerged as one of the very productive players on our offense this year.''
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Jones was the Tide's leading receiver each of the past three seasons. It seemed before the season like his successor might be similarly-sized junior college transfer Duron Carter or redshirt freshman DeAndrew White.
Carter is ineligible, and White has only shown flashes of potential so far.
Then there's Maze, generously listed at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds but stepping up big for Alabama (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) going into Saturday night's visit to Mississippi.
He's third in the league in catches per game, with 31 receptions for 355 yards. Tailback Trent Richardson is No. 2 on the team with 13 catches and 149 yards.
Maze thrives on shorter, catch-and-run patterns like crossing routes that give him room to run in open spaces.
''When I get the ball in my hands early,'' he said, ''I don't really think the first guy can make the tackle.''
So what if those across-the-middle routes at times subject him to big hits. ''It's dangerous, but I'm a dangerous player,'' Maze said. ''I'm not afraid to go in and get tackled by those guys.''
Maze does have something Jones doesn't: a little edge, a little attitude, a little man's feistiness.
''He's probably more like coach Saban with the short man's syndrome, a little bit,'' Richardson said. ''But he'll get after you, man. He's never going to let you down. He's going full speed every play. He never takes a play off. He's going to block for you downfield. You're going to get Marquis Maze's 100 percent every game, man. ''
So far he has delivered. Maze also returns kicks and is third in the SEC with a 13.4-yard average on punt returns, including an 83-yard touchdown against Arkansas, though Alabama's stingy defense means his 24 returns is easily the most among the Top 10. Next up is LSU's Tyrann Mathieu with 13.
With his new role, the fifth-year senior has set career-highs of receiving yards (118) and catches (nine). He was the team's No. 2 receiver each of the past two seasons but is already only seven catches shy of last year's total.
Jones only had one more catch through six games last season and finished with school records in catches (78) and receiving yards (1,133), then was the No. 6 NFL draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons. Maze said he doesn't pay attention to such numbers comparisons.
''I'm not focused on how many catches I get or any of that,'' he said. ''I'm just worried about winning.''
One thing he's been winning since his arrival on campus is footraces. He said current NFL cornerbacks Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson and ''a lot of fast guys'' were among those challenging him to races.
According to Maze, he won every time. His biggest victory, though, came as a ninth-grader when he says he outran the supposed fastest guy on his high school team
''At that point, I was just like, `Man, I guess I'm pretty fast,''' Maze said.