Whether fans would like to admit it or not, Alabama has its work cut out for it in terms of replacing its high-powered offensive attack from 2021. A unit that ranked seventh in the country in yards per game and averaged nearly 40 points per contest has seen a grand departure of talent that was essential to the team’s success.
Starting offensive tackle Evan Neal, leading rusher Brian Robinson and its two-star receivers John Metchie and Jameson Williams all departed for the NFL Draft leaving gaping holes for Nick Saban and O’Brien to replace.
Fortunately for the Crimson Tide, it returns the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Bryce Young who kept the ship steady whenever the waters got rough. Despite Young’s consistency, the new players he’ll have around him are still being worked into the offense which begs the question, what will O’Brien’s offense look like in 2022?
It’s safe to assume that Alabama won’t be making any drastic changes in terms of the scheme. Saban and O’Brien have discussed in the past that the team has a way of going about offense, and there won’t be major changes year to year. This caused the former Houston Texans head coach to go through a bit of a learning curve early on in his play-calling duties for Alabama, but as he enters year two things may be able to kick up a notch depending on the development of the team’s new personnel.
The biggest changes came in the wide receiver room as Young will need to work with three new targets this upcoming season. But much like what O’Brien was able to do with Williams as a transfer, he’ll have two other explosive newcomers in Tyler Harrell and Jermaine Burton.
There won’t be a true plug-and-play option on O’Brien’s offense that will completely make up for the threat and production of Williams, but a combination of the two receivers could make the replacement a bit easier while adding multiple threats in the passing game. The unit will also see what sophomore Ja’Corey Brooks has to offer across an entire season after thriving down the stretch of last season for the offense where he made some big plays in the Iron Bowl and College Football Playoff.
Alabama’s passing game will have some time to develop early in the season, for its running game should come out of the gates strong. Returning from injury are juniors Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams who both saw action in 2021 before injuries cut their seasons short. When the postseason came around this position group was depleted leaving Robinson and Trey Sanders as the only two scholarship running backs capable of playing.
With Robinson off to the NFL, O’Brien would already have three experienced running backs to build the ground game upon, but the staff knows how important depth at that position will be which caused the team to grab Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs out of the transfer portal.
In his short time with the time, Gibbs has emerged as Alabama’s top running back, earning praise from Young and the coaching staff leading into fall camp.
Saban has always liked using multiple running backs on offense and this season could be reminiscent of the 2017 running backs room where Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris all earned significant carries throughout the season. To expect this group to match the overall production may be a bit much, but O’Brien will have several options to work with.
But before Alabama gets its run game moving or the passing game soaring, it needs to address the big men upfront. Last season the offensive was the most inconsistent unit on the team which would lead to the offense stalling out midway through games, getting itself in troublesome positions. The group has a new position coach in Eric Wolford to make some adjustments, along with Vanderbilt transfer Tyler Steen, but O’Brien may need to scheme around some of his player’s deficiencies early on.
With so much movement and new players on the line, it could take some time to truly gel as a unit. But if the group can come together and perform marginally better than it did in 2021, then Alabama’s offense could once again perform at a championship level.
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Patrick Dowd is a Reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter, via Pat_Dowd77