TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — SEC Country is breaking down each of Alabama’s position groups over the next two weeks before the entire 2016 roster reports to campus.
Friday, we take a closer look at the Crimson Tide’s tight ends, which features matchup nightmare O.J. Howard.
Names you need to know: O.J. Howard (senior), Brandon Greene (senior), Hale Hentges (sophomore), Miller Forristall (freshman)
Analysis: Getting Howard to return to school for his senior season was one of Nick Saban’s best recruiting jobs of the offseason. In Alabama’s national championship win over Clemson, Howard showed why so many people believe he could be one of the best in the country. Howard was named offensive player of the game after catching five passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns.
But there’s still plenty for the Prattville, Ala. native to improve on.
“Route running. You can always get better in blocking. You can never be too good of a blocker,” Howard said of what he could improve on this spring. “Just that next level, just elevate it a lot more. Just be dominant. That’s really what I’m trying to do.”
Last season, Howard caught 38 passes for 602 yards and two scores. He wasn’t a major part of Alabama’s offense prior to the national championship game, and hadn’t caught a touchdown pass since his freshman season before hauling in two in the title game.
“There are things he knows he can improve on as a player, and there are things we can improve on to utilize him better on a more consistent basis, which we certainly plan on doing,” Saban said this spring. “He’s been very productive in the two practices we’ve had. I think it’s going to work out great for him and work out great for us that he made the decision that he made. We’re excited about it and looking forward to him being someone who is very productive for us next year.”
Beyond Howard, Hentges is Alabama’s blocking tight end. Hentges saw a lot of playing time as a freshman which only bodes well for his development going forward. Hentges won the “I Like to Practice” Award this spring which lets you know what type of player he is.
Greene is also an option as a blocking tight end. He’s played both tight end and offensive tackle throughout his career.
January enrollee Forristall was one of the highlights of A-Day. Forristall led all receivers with eight catches on the afternoon, totaling 53 yards.
Forristall showed he could be a security blanket at the tight end position and should earn a role as a freshman. He’ll take over for Howard as the pass catcher after this season.
Key question: Will Alabama finally incorporate Howard into the passing game on a regular basis?
At times last season, it seemed like Alabama’s offense forgot it had Howard on the team. One would be hardpressed to find another player in the country who has the potential to be a bigger mismatch for opposing defenses that Howard. He is bigger than most linebackers. He can outrun defensive backs. He can split out wide as a receiver. He’s an improved blocker.
It’s time for Alabama to get more out of Howard and feature him in the offense. Whether it’s working him over the middle or splitting him out wide, Howard is too good of a player not to use.
Surely Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is thinking of some packages to get Howard more involved.
Bottom line: This group goes as far as Howard takes them. Forristall is the heir-apparent as a pass catching tight end, but he’s still got a lot to learn about the game. Hentges is more of a blocker at this stage of his career, which is fine because Alabama needs one of those if it wants to succeed in the running game.
If Howard can consistently show more of that elite potential, he could become an All-SEC or even All-American type player. If not, Alabama fans will once again be left wondering “what-if” when it comes to Howard and what he could have brought to Alabama’s offense.