For the first time this season, Alabama tight end Jahleel Billingsley saw playing time in the first half of the game against Florida last Saturday. Although he was only on the field for a few brief snaps throughout the game, Billingsley’s impact was felt in the form of a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bryce Young putting the team up 14-3.
It was one of the Crimson Tide few successful offensive drives of the game, as it struggled for the remaining three quarters of action, only putting up 10 points the rest of the way after a 21 point burst out of the gate.
Yards were tough to come by especially through the air for quarterback Bryce Young as the Gator’s secondary tallied seven total pass break ups throughout the day which led to a number of third and longs or punts.
Head coach Nick Saban commented on how the team is looking to create more explosive plays and that it comes down to the players execution.
“We’re working to make explosive plays,” Saban said during his Wednesday press conference. “I think we have to just execute a little bit better, give players more opportunities to make those plays. We’ve had some really, really good skill guys here, and the players make the plays. So those guys made a lot of explosive plays. They’d catch a slant pass and run for 70 yards. We catch a slant pass and get tackled.
“It’s the players, the execution of what we have to do on each and every play so that we have a chance to make explosive plays. And giving our guys opportunities through good planning is something that we have to continue to try to do a good job of as well.”
If the word are true, then it might be time for Billingsley to get a larger opportunity in the offense.
In just a handful of plays in the first half, Billingsley made a major impact in the form of his touchdown which is exactly the kind of big plays Saban is referring to.
Just look at the 2020 season when Billingsley was regular in Alabama’s passing game. In his seven games of action, Billinsgley averaged 15.9 yards per reception which would be second on the team this season behind wide receiver Jameson Williams with 19.8 yards per catch.
His extended role wouldn’t even need to mean the end of tight end Cameron Latu’s run of playing time. Latu has performed quite well as the first string tight end and has proven to be a threat not only in the running game but also in the passing.
Having both Latu and Billingsley with how versatile the two are, would be a major issue for opposing defenses who need to cover them. Latu himself even expects Billingsley to return to making big plays for the team.
“One thing I expect from him is to make a lot more plays,” Latu said on Tuesday. “He’s a very useful weapon for our offense, and I love playing beside him, and he’s going to help our team a lot.”
Getting Billingsley more involved could potentially give Alabama a sixth legitimate weapon for Young to work with in the offense which already includes Williams, Latu, John Metchie, Slade Bolden and JoJo Earle. That’s not even counting running back Jase McClellan who has emerged as a solid receiving option out of the backfield in his own right.
The decision ultimately will come down to Saban, who did mention that Billingsley has done everything he’s asked of him since he was originally suspended back at the start of fall camp.
“Well, he’s doing what he’s supposed to do,” Saban said. “He practices better, he’s more engaged, he’s more focused on what he’s supposed to and he’s having more positive performance on the field which is what any player is supposed to do.”
Extended playing time for Billingsley could be coming this weekend when Alabama returns to Bryant-Denny Stadium as it welcomes Southern Miss on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CT.
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Patrick Dowd is a Reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter, via Pat_Dowd77