One name that was prominent in Lane Kiffin’s first season as offensive coordinator at Alabama was fullback Jalston Fowler. Head coach Nick Saban said Fowler was one of the best all-around players he’s ever coached. He was the complete package as a runner, blocker and pass catcher.
Fowler, 5-foot-11, 254 pounds, totaled 738 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 6.5 yards per carry in his career. He accounted for seven career touchdown receptions from 2010-14.
The former Alabama standout and four-star prospect from Vigor High School (Mobile, Ala.) was selected in the fourth round (108th pick) of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans.
Alabama now has to lean more so on its tight ends and a former walk-on at fullback to set the edge in its run game. It returns O.J. Howard, Brandon Greene and Ty Flournoy-Smith.
Howard was underused as a receiving target, but Fowler taught him how to block last season.
He excelled down the stretch, in setting up cutback lanes for T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Kiffin will look to create more opportunities for Howard to be explosive, yet he must continue to build on being a good blocker. He chimed in with 260 receiving yards on 17 catches in 2014.
Greene caught one pass in 11 games last season, but it was a 24-yard reception that helped Alabama defeat LSU 20-13 in overtime. He’s shown flashes of being a solid blocker. The Crimson Tide would have Greene to lean on, if it wants Howard to be more of a pass catcher.
Flournoy-Smith, a former Georgia transfer, had a productive spring. He finished second on the Crimson Team in receptions with five for 46 yards in Alabama’s spring game. Flournoy-Smith caught two passes for 18 yards and a touchdown in four games last season.
Former walk-on Michael Nysewander enrolled at Alabama as a tight end, however, he was developed at fullback/H-back last season. He earned the starting job at fullback during spring practice, and looks to fill the shoes of Jalston Fowler. A native of Hoover, Ala., Nysewander returns to Tuscaloosa for his senior season.
The 6-foot-1, 237-pound Nysewander saw action in eight games last year, tallying two catches for 21 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown came against Western Carolina on a 12-yard pass from quarterback Jake Coker. Fowler was the first to celebrate with Nysewander.
Alabama also returns junior tight end Dakota Ball to its roster, but it will come down to which rotation best fits the team’s running style. Coach Saban wants to bring a fully packaged O.J. Howard to the scene. Nysewander anticipates going from walk-on to a valuable asset.
Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon were both game changing players, but Fowler was a rare gem. One cannot replace his production and experience, but Alabama expects others to emerge.