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Alabama Football: Why Kiffin must feature TE O.J. Howard and "12 Personnel"

Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin can ease quarterback Jacob Coker's transition by taking a page out of the New England Patriots' playbook.

RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

If new Alabama Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is looking for the most efficient way to break in his new quarterback, presumably Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, there are a few things he should do: revamp the run game to feature a power-based attack equipped with a lead blocker, attack the short-area zones in the passing game and do so with two interchangeable "move" tight ends.

Hybrid back Jalston Fowler (6'1", 250 lbs) would undoubtedly help the power game as a lead blocker for dynamic tailbacks T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry. Incoming tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith, 6'3", 245 pounds, would be a perfect candidate to operate in the same formation as Alabama's next great offensive star, tight end O.J. Howard -- the 6'6", 238-pound athletic marvel.

Kiffin has all the tools at his disposal to bring power back to the all that's left is the scheme it up to perfection.

From 2010-2012, the New England Patriots featured a diverse offensive scheme centered on a two-tight set.  The manner in which offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien deployed Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez befuddled defenses to the utmost. The 6'6", 265-pound Gronkowski had the ability to be play both the in-line and move spot in the formation.

Hernandez, 6'1", 245 pounds, defined versatility. He could play both tight end spots, line up wide at the "X" and play both spots in the backfield. When New England decided to approach defenses with a no-huddle attack, its ability to deploy the same group of personnel, in a myriad of ways, ensured favorable matchups across the board.

When defensive coordinators encounter a power set like "22 personnel" (two backs, two tight ends and two receivers), their first instinct is to counter it with a base defense. But when you have two tight ends like Gronkowski and Hernandez, this puts pressure on linebackers and safeties to cover bigger, powerful and more fluid athletes.

When you throw in a talented fullback like Fowler, the possibilities are virtually infinite.

As it pertains to Alabama, Flournoy-Smith and O.J. Howard could most certainly reprise what Gronkowski and Hernandez did for the Patriots.


Tide fans were treated to a glimpse of the future when Howard was incorporated into the offense as a freshman, sparingly. Former receiver, and current Atlanta Falcons star, Julio Jones defined what a significant impact player was -- under current head coach Nick Saban. At 6'3", 220 pounds, running a 4.39 40-yard dash, his ability to maximize the short game was virtually unparalleled

He could turn slants, quick hitches and screens into 80-yard gains at the drop of a dime. Many labeled him as a once-in-a-generation player in regard to his height-weight-speed ratio.

Well that generation must be over, because Howard looks to be every bit the athlete of Jones...only much bigger!


Here we see Bama lined up in "12 personnel" with tight end Brian Vogler occupying the position Flournoy-Smith should play. Most of Howard's impact plays came on crossing routes his freshman season. Bama's exceptional run game garners a fair amount of attention; defenses are forced to react off of it.

What stands out here is how quickly Howard can accelerate. This play is very reminiscent of what makes Jones special. But when you take into consideration just how big Howard is, Detroit Lions' receiver Calvin Johnson comes to mind.

Now that's scary!

Howard reportedly runs a 4.49 40-yard dash, so you can only imagine how fast he will get once he starts to blossom into a grown man. He may very well top out around 250 pounds being in Bama's famed weightlifting program over the next two seasons.

Take it from someone who has been in the situation, not many want to tackle a 250-pound behemoth -- running a 4.4 40-yard dash -- in the open field. When you put two tight ends on the field simultaneously, that are both freaks athletically, you render the game more physical while still being able to dictate through the air.


OJ Howard high point

When you want to work the middle quadrant of the field, having a pass-catcher that can high-point the ball is paramount. Here Howard makes a mockery of Texas A&M's area defense. Kiffin needs to break Coker in from the inside/out. Once defenses catch wind that Bama is looking to dominate the middle of the field, the coverage will lighten up on the edges where the best receiver in college football resides -- in Amari Cooper.

There are not enough superlatives you can throw at Howard. Supporters of the Crimson and White have never seen a tight end with his physical skill set. While Howard may never grow as large as the two best tight ends in the NFL, Gronkowski and the  6'7", 265-pound Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints), neither possess the breakaway speed of Howard.


Tide fans undoubtedly remember this indelible play. Lined up at the "Z" receiver, against LSU cornerback Jalen Mills, Howard showed that Megatron-like burst with a 52-yard gallop to paydirt. If his skill set weren't so valuable in the middle of the formation, I thoroughly believe Howard could be an All-American receiver.



But make no mistake about it; it's versatility that makes the two-tight end sets hazardous for defenses.


Senior tight end Brian Vogler is the clubhouse leader to be Howard's counterpart. At 6'7", 260 pounds, he's built a lot like Gronkowski. But that's where the comparisons end. With 11-total catches for his career, it may be too much to ask for Vogler to take the next step in his career.

Flournoy-Smith would be the perfect complement to Howard. Before he spent a year at Georgia Military College, due to well-documented previous transgressions, he was expected to be one of the next great tight ends at the University of Georgia. He's a good athlete that is solid at every aspect of football.

He's physical, fast and savvy. GMC relies on a heavy-run based offense, which rarely throws to the tight ends. In fact, Flournoy-Smith only had six receptions in his lone season in Milledgeville. But five of them went for touchdowns.


The fact that he was in a run-based offense has further strengthened his pass-blocking ability. This characteristic meshes well with Howard's skill set as he, too, is fantastic in pass-protection. With these two versatile athletes on the field at the same time, the Tide can operate in heavy personnel and still dominate through the air.

Furthermore, it would give Coker two sizeable targets that would work in the area where throws are less difficult. Flournoy-Smith can also double as fullback in certain sets, with Howard being motioned out to a receiver position.

And can you imagine if the Tide were to go empty set with both of them on the field?

5 wide

It worked for the Patriots!

It's time for some creativity within the Tide's offense; "11 personnel," with Howard and Flournoy-Smith, would be a game-changer.

Murf Baldwin covers the Alabama Crimson Tide for Roll 'Bama Roll in addition to being a staff writer for The Falcoholic. He previously covered the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints for Bleacher Report. Are you not entertained? Follow Murf on Twitter.