Tight-ends have been noticeably absent from Alabama's new, expanded offense ever since Lane Kiffin took over in 2014. So much so, that numerous jokes were made about O.J. Howard's lack of involvement, especially last season. After a big performance in the National Championship, many fans believe that the tight end position will see an expanded role this upcoming season.
The passing game continues to grow at Alabama as Kiffin installs different schemes to spread out the offense. The tight end can always be an x-factor in any game, as teams sometimes can forget about the skills they posses as receivers. Keep an eye out for these two main guys as Alabama tries to make the position a bigger factor.
Assuming the team gets a quarterback that can throw him the ball, Howard should dominate the playing time given to players at this position. He is the main guy at this position and should see an increase in production as Alabama continues to open up the passing game. Howard, of course, is a talented receiver who can turn small plays into big ones with his deceptive speed.
One example of this was late in the national championship game when he took a five-yard out route down inside the red zone, out-running linebackers and cornerbacks in the process. That is one of the better things about Howard's game. His ability to reach the second level with incredible acceleration has been a big part of the plays he has made at Alabama. His touchdown against LSU in 2014 was another example of this, as he caught the ball across the middle of the field and turned on the jets to reach the end zone.
If Saban and Kiffin keep their promises of giving Howard the attention he deserves, he should finally reach the heights that people have been expecting him too. So far, his lack of production has been a combination of the coaches not getting him involved and his tendency to go missing during games. One cannot pinpoint exactly why he has not been able to have a consistent impact, but if things go as planned, he should be able to help Alabama's passing game be powerful.
Unless Alabama finds a quarterback with excellent arm strength, Howard will also be used in a check-down type fashion to help establish a rhythm in the passing game. Expect him to either camp in the middle of the field or run short routes to try and get him space to use his acceleration.
Hopefully, more teams will go the Clemson route of just not putting anyone on him or paying any attention to him at all.
Hentges role in the offense will be less as a receiver and more as blocker. He saw playing time in all 15 games last season, but only made one catch for five yards. He will important in giving the offensive line more help when establishing the running game. I do not really see him getting too involved in the passing game, as Alabama rarely uses the tight end to begin with. Who knows, hell might freeze over Lane Kiffin may choose to use two whole tight-ends in the passing game. If that happens, I want to see an old-fashioned thermometer reading of the temperature down there.
All joking aside, Hentges will be able to make an impact blocking for Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris, as the Crimson Tide will, once again, try to establish a strong running game.
Whether the tight end will see anymore action this season remains to be seen, but indicators show that Howard will be able to catch at least a little more passes this season. It all depends on whether he is worked into the playbook and if he can execute correctly. The tight end position continues to be a mystery at Alabama.
Ed. Note: Graduates at TE include:
Dakota Ball, who remains with the program but has transitioned to the defensive line.
Michael Nysewander: The big H-back was an excellent contributor on special teams and played fullback as well last season. He had one catch for 19 yards against ULM. But, his greater contributions were blowing fools up with devastating blocks.
Ty Flournoy-Smith: More production was expected out of Flournoy-Smith, particularly after his excellent showing in last year's A-Day game. However, those short check-downs to the tight ends never really materialized in Coach Lane Kiffin's offense. He recorded three receptions for 48 yards. In 2014, he added a touchdown from Blake Sims in the 59-0 rout of the Aggies.
Alabama signed one tight end in the 2016 NSD class, Irvin Smith. Smith is likely looking at a redshirt season in 2016.