We have returned to “overreaction offseason” in the month May, as national media pundits believe the University of Alabama is under the most pressure to win a College Football Playoff National Championship next fall. Despite its loss to Clemson in January, head coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide’s coaching staff is aware of what it needs to do in the upcoming season.
On a positive note, the program returns experience and talent on offense and defense.
In getting back to the “Alabama factor,” the team looks to field the best unit in college football and reclaim its title of being the No. 1 program in Division I. After a good spring semester and having to wait on a few more players this summer, listed below is a projection for Alabama’s depth chart on offense, defense and special teams. Fall camp should be highly competitive.
OL (left to right)
G1: Alex Leatherwood, Deonte Brown, Chris Owens, Matt Womack, Jedrick Wills
G2: Kendall Randolph, Evan Neal, Emil Ekiyor, Darian Dalcourt, Scott Lashley
G3: Amari Kight, Pierce Quick, Darian Dalcourt, Tommy Brown, Tanner Bowles
*Center position is bolded
Summary: Regardless of losing Jonah Williams, Ross Pierschbacher, Lester Cotton and Josh Casher, Alabama returns a deep rotation along its offensive unit. First-year coach Kyle Flood (coming from the Atlanta Falcons) has a lot of pieces to work with and during spring ball, he seemed to have made a smooth transition. Deonte Brown, a redshirt junior, will miss the first four games of next season (suspension), so Emil Ekiyor projects as the starting left guard.
Coach Saban had a lot of positive things to say about the redshirt freshman from Indianapolis, Ind., as he arrived as one of the nation’s top center and guard prospects in the 2018 class.
When looking at groups two and three, the Tide must locate the best combination.
Evan Neal, a true freshman, is physically imposing at 6-foot-7 and 360 pounds. He fits more naturally at offensive tackle; however, Saban had him taking reps at both tackle and left guard throughout the spring. Barring injuries, this year’s front line has the potential to be a group that wins the Joe Moore Award (top OL in college football) and have it not questioned via fans.
G1: Najee Harris, Brian Robinson Jr.
G2: Trey Sanders (summer enrollee), Jerome Ford, Chadarius Townsend
G3: Keilan Robinson (summer enrollee)
Summary: Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. will share backfield responsibilities to start next season, but expect one to take over in the middle of the year. Harris, at 6-foot-2 and 227 pounds, finished second on the team in rushing with 783 yards and four touchdowns on 117 carries.
Robinson, at 6-foot-1 and 226 pounds, countered with 272 yards rushing and a pair of scores last year and totaled six catches for 52 yards on A-Day. Harris may be compared to former Tide star Derrick Henry in terms of size, but Robinson carries the running style of the 2015 Heisman winner.
Trey Sanders is the wildcard of the group.
An explosive five-star from IMG Academy in Florida, the ESPN 300 back is highly confident and intends on continuing what guys like Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, T.J. Yeldon, Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris all did as freshmen. He may have to tone down his Heisman campaign for a moment, but his combination of size, power and speed is good behind this offensive line.
For the duo of Jerome Ford and Chadarius Townsend, both guys turned in strong production at spring practice. According to sources, Townsend could potentially be used in the same manner Josh Jacobs was featured in. As for Ford, in conversations with former Alabama linebacker Jamey Mosley – yours truly of Touchdown Alabama Magazine was told he is “one the rise.”
Keilan Robinson, a four-star from Washington, D.C., was overlooked in the 2019 class.
A player with much versatility, he enters with a Jacobs’ like chip on his shoulders as he looks to prove recruiting sites wrong and be special at Alabama. The Tide is deep once again at the position, but Robinson plans on quickly making his presence felt when he arrives on campus.
G1 (X): Henry Ruggs III, John Metchie, Slade Bolden
G2 (Z): DeVonta Smith, Xavier Williams, Tyrell Shavers
G3 (Slot): Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle
Summary: Alabama returns the most talented receiver room in the nation.
Jerry Jeudy is back as a junior and Fred Biletnikoff Award winner, following his 1,315 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns last season. He, along with Henry Ruggs III (11 scores in 2018, team-high) and DeVonta Smith (693 yards, six scores) can all be potential first-round picks.
He was phenomenal as a freshman, but Jaylen Waddle has more in store. His 848 yards receiving was good for second on the team and he had seven touchdowns on 45 receptions, en route to being selected to the All-Freshman Team for the Southeastern Conference.
In terms of Xavier Williams, Tyrell Shavers, John Metchie and Slade Bolden, all have to find ways to fit into the offense. Each player did good things in spring and showed out on A-Day; nevertheless, they must create a role in fall camp in order to get on the field and have success.
Kedrick James (serving 4-game suspension)
Summary: The departures of Irv Smith Jr. and Hale Hentges left the tight end group thin, but transitioning Cameron Latu to offense has helped. The native of Salt Lake City, Utah had a productive spring and at 6’5” and 247 pounds, he has the make-up be a solid player.
Kedrick James, who will serve a four-game suspension, has a chance to turn in quality statistics upon his return. A four-star from Waco, Texas, James stands at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds and could have a career similar to Irv Smith. Michael Parker, a redshirt freshman, was a fine three-star product at Westminster Christian High School in Huntsville, Ala., before arriving in 2018.
His brother, John Parker, enters his senior year as a walk-on.
Summary: A serious knee ended his sophomore campaign after three games in 2017 and Irv Smith Jr. took the shine in 2018, but Miller Forristall is the most experienced tight end back for Alabama. He’s added some weight to help with his in-line blocking and has always been sure-handed at 6-foot-5, 234 pounds. During the 2016 season, former walk-on quarterback Josh Palet told yours truly of Touchdown Alabama Magazine that Forristall just “finds ways to get open.”
He caught five passes for 75 yards as a freshman and will create matchup problems.
As for Major Tennison and Jahleel Billingsley, both possesses the size and athleticism to be success H-backs but they are still learning the system. Tennison, a redshirt sophomore, had totaled just two receptions thus far in his career yet at 6’5” and 244 pounds, Saban and Jeff Banks (tight ends coach) are going to find opportunities to get him on the field.
Taulia Tagovailoa/Paul Tyson
Summary: He proved he was the man even with Jalen Hurts on the team; however, everyone can now fully focus on Tua Tagovailoa with Hurts now in Oklahoma. The returning junior set multiple single-season school records in 2018 and became the fourth signal caller of the Saban era to account for 3,000 passing yards. Tagovailoa tossed for 3,966 yards with 43 touchdowns (48 total scores) and finished last season as both a Heisman finalist and an All-American.
He will do a much better job of protecting himself and the football, especially with Mac Jones behind him. Jones, a redshirt sophomore, enters his third year and provided a stellar showing throughout spring practice. He completed 19 of 23 passes on A-Day for 271 yards with two touchdowns to one interception, guiding White to a 31-17 win over Crimson on April 13.
Jones did not receive many chances in 2018, but that will change next fall.
Taulia Tagovailoa did some good things in spring ball, including a scoring strike to sophomore receiver Jaylen Waddle on A-Day. The former four-star from Thompson High School and younger brother to Tua Tagovailoa will continue pushing Jones for the No. 2 spot, but he remains the third guy for now. As for Paul Tyson, the potential to be a next level quarterback is there – despite him not getting a fair shake at opportunities in spring ball. He was a 3,000-yard passer in an offense at Hewitt-Trussville (Trussville, Ala.) that is primary a run-oriented team.
Alabama will more than likely redshirt Tyson.
G1: LaBryan Ray, D.J. Dale, Raekwon Davis
G2: Phidarian Mathis, Christian Barmore, Stephon Wynn
G3: Antonio Alfano, Ishmael Sopsher, Justin Ebiogbe
G4: Byron Young, Tevita Muskia, Braylen Ingraham
*Defensive tackles are bolded
*Summer enrollees are italicized
Summary: First-year defensive line coach Brian Baker is licking his chops as Alabama’s defensive line had depth at both end and tackle positions. Raekwon Davis returns as the senior leader and LaBryan Ray, a junior, is anticipating a breakout season. True freshman D.J. Dale was a standout throughout spring and has drawn comparisons to former Tide star, Da’Ron Payne.
Christian Barmore, a redshirt freshman, has worked tirelessly this offseason and could provide this defensive line with its 2.0 version of Quinnen Williams. Phidarian Mathis had some good moments in the Orange Bowl and made the All-Freshman Team for the Southeastern Conference in 2018. As a returning sophomore, he brings size, power and athleticism as an edge rusher.
He may not have the explosiveness to match his teammates, but Tevita Musika will give production as a “plug and play” piece. He fits the old school two-gap defender that the Tide has recruited in the past.
When it comes to Antonio Alfano, Justin Ebiogbe, Byron Young and Braylen Ingraham, the talent is rich and the competition will be fun to watch. All four players will push to get on the field – especially the five-star early enrollee in Alfano.
Strong-Side LB (SAM)
Middle LB (MIKE)
Weakside LB (WILL)
Shane Lee/Ale Kaho
Rush LB (JACK)
Eyabi Anoma/Jarez Parks
Summary: Pete Golding and Sal Sunseri, like Brian Baker, should be very excited with the mixture of talents and personalities they will have all linebacker positions.
As good as Lyndell “Mack” Wilson was and as great as he could have been, Dylan Moses gives the Tide a better signal-caller at middle “Mike” linebacker. After making the All-Freshman Team for the SEC in 2017, Moses led Alabama in total tackles (86) and had 10 tackles for loss with 3.5 sacks last season. He was a finalist for the Dick Butkus Award – which is presented to the best linebacker in high school, college and professional football – and has been groomed to captain a defensive unit since eighth grade. Joshua McMillon, a redshirt senior, will fall behind him as the starting weakside “Will” linebacker while the duo of Terrell Lewis (SAM) and Anfernee Jennings (JACK) will serve as the Tide’s edge-rushing specialist for next season.
One can expect monster production from Eyabi Anoma and the possibility of action from Jarez Parks, seeing how he remained loyal to Saban in accepting the grayshirt. The youth at linebacker is promising with Jaylen Moody, Shane Lee, King Mwikuta, Chris Harris and Kevin Harris II.
Lee and Moody could potentially be ready for big action in the fall, if Ale Kaho is not prepared to step in and perform as the guy the coaching staff is expecting him to be.
This stands as the final chance for Ben Davis to be special.
He enrolled as a highly-touted inside linebacker, but constantly fluctuation at the position and concerns about whether he loves the game or not has hindered him from seeing the field.
Hopefully, the once five-star recruit has everything together.
Patrick Surtain II
Josh Jobe/Nigel Knott
Trevon Diggs/Patrick Surtain II/Jared Mayden
Jared Mayden/Daniel Wright
Jared Mayden/DeMarcco Hellams
Eddie Smith/Jordan Battle
Summary: For secondary coaches Karl Scott (cornerbacks) and Charles Kelly (safeties), they unarguably will have the strongest group of the team. The experience Patrick Surtain II got at cornerback last year was valuable as he earned All-Freshman Team honors from the SEC.
Trevon Diggs, a senior, returns from a foot injury to supply leadership and create a first-round draft stock from himself. Shyheim Carter, a senior, was a lockdown defender at star in 2018 – especially during the SEC Championship Game versus Georgia. His 10 pass breakups on the season was tied for second on the team. Xavier McKinney became a natural coverage safety and had a Minkah Fitzpatrick-like year in filling the stat sheet with 74 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks, 10 pass breakups (T- 2nd on team), two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Jared Mayden, another senior, has a chance to be productive at free safety and at dime – should he excel in matching pass patterns. The depth for the Tide is ridiculous if one looks at Josh Jobe, Jalyn Armour-Davis, Nigel Knott, Daniel Wright and Eddie Smith. This is not even counting the freshmen such as Jeffery Carter, Marcus Banks, Brandon Turnage, DeMarcco Hellams and Jordan Battle. The talent is all across the board in Tuscaloosa, Ala., but especially in the secondary.
*Bernier is currently in NCAA transfer portal
G1: Henry Ruggs III/Brian Robinson
G2: Trevon Diggs/ John Metchie
Trevon Diggs/ Jerry Jeudy/Xavier Williams
Scott Meyer *
*Meyer currently in NCAA transfer portal
Summary: In his second year as coordinator for special teams, Jeff Banks now has a group that’s lethal in creating an advantage. Will Reichard, a true freshman, may have finally calmed the nerves of Alabama fans when it comes to the kicking game. He nailed a 43-yard attempt in the spring game and made all of his extra points. Skyler DeLong, a sophomore, looked much improved punting the football as he averaged 47.5 yards per boot on A-Day – with his longest punt traveling 54 yards and having two of his four attempts land inside the 20-yard line.
With a combination of Henry Ruggs III, Jaylen Waddle and Trevon Diggs handling kick and punt return duties, all of college football will be on alert. Also, watch for the potential of Jerry Jeudy, Xavier Williams and John Metchie in the return game as well. Mac Jones is projected to be the holder on field goals and extra point tries, while Thomas Fletcher is the long snapper.
Alabama could possibly get Scott Meyer out of the transfer portal, but if he leaves, the program would need to locate someone to create depth behind Fletcher. As for Mike Bernier, he is also in the NCAA transfer portal.
He was the starting punter for the Tide last season.
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