TUSCALOOSA — Maybe the most important play in Alabama’s 49-0 win over Auburn came early in the third quarter.
Lined up at the Tigers’ 38, AJ McCarron threw deep to receiver Kevin Norwood, who had a couple of steps on an Auburn defensive back. Norwood made the catch in stride and rolled into the end zone for a touchdown.
With speedy receiver Kenny Bell out with a broken leg suffered against Auburn, Alabama could use another deep threat to go along with freshman Amari Cooper, and Norwood showed on that play he’s healthy and ready to provide one.
Since the third game of the season, Norwood has struggled with a leg injury he said he doesn’t know precisely how he hurt. But in the week leading up to Saturday’s win over Auburn, he was able to work out every day. On Saturday, he caught five passes for 65 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“I couldn’t feel any better,” Norwood said Monday before practice, as No. 2-ranked Alabama (11-1) prepares to face No. 3 Georgia (11-1) in the SEC Championship Game. Kickoff is 3 p.m. at the GeorgiaDome.
Bell provided Alabama’s best deep threat, averaging 25.4 yards a reception. He played backup at the “Z” receiver position to Norwood, who starts and averages 15.2 a catch.
However, Norwood has missed one game and played sparingly in two others because of the leg injuries. In some cases, he played even though he didn’t practice full speed during the week.
“I’ve been dealing with injuries ever since I’ve been here,” he said. “It’s basically a mental thing for me. I basically push it aside and worry about what I have to do for the team. Injuries don’t affect me as much as everybody thinks they do. I really just block it out.”
Norwood’s backup at the “Z” in Monday’s practice was true freshman Chris Black, who hasn’t played this year because of a preseason shoulder injury that required surgery. He returned to practice three weeks ago, although Monday was the first time he was allowed to go through contact drills.
“We’re going to try to get him some reps,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban, although he wouldn’t commit to revealing if Black will play Saturday.
Other than Norwood (26 catches) and Cooper (45), Alabama doesn’t have many experienced pass-catchers. The rest of the rotation for Saturday will include Christion Jones (24), Cyrus Jones (four), Marvin Shinn (four) and possibly Danny Woodson Jr. (one), if Black remains on the sideline and redshirts, which was the original plan for him.
Norwood said if Black has to play, “it’s going to be very difficult, being that he really hasn’t played all season.”
Either way, it might come down to the role Norwood will play. He’s done well before in games with high stakes. In last season’s BCS National Championship Game win over LSU, he had four catches for 78 yards.
In the season-opening win over Michigan, he caught three passes for 53 yards. When Alabama won at LSU, he had five catches, including three on the game-winning drive in the final two minutes.
“I love doing everything,” Norwood said. “I love moving the ball for us and making plays for this offense. As long as AJ throws me the ball, and I’m able to make plays, I’m going to continue to make plays.”