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2016 Alabama Football Unit Previews: Tight Ends

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With practice starting this week, RBR helps you get a jump on what to look for.

"Git outta mah way!"
"Git outta mah way!"
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

I know what you are thinking. O.J. Howard, O.J. Howard, and O.J. Howard. Oh yeah, and of course there is O.J. Howard. However, tight end/H-back is a position that may be a little less cut and dry for the Crimson Tide this coming season than you may think.

Love him or hate him (or tenuously like him like most of us do), you have to respect the offensive mind of Lane Kiffin. He is arguably one of the top Offensive Coordinators in college football today. That said, it is not easy to predict what he has in store for opposing defenses in 2016. He is not going to dust off the same ol' playbook from last year. So, it remains to be seen how and how much he is uses the tight ends and H-backs, including one guy in particular.

OJ Howard vs Clemson

THE STAR

88 O.J. Howard (6'6"/242 lbs) Senior, Prattville, Ala. - Against Clemson in the National Championship Game, Howard finally broke out and lived up to the hype that Bama fans had been expecting from him, lo these past three years. The former 5-star recruit collected five catches for 208 yards that included two touchdowns and a big 63-yard screen pass catch & run that put the Tide in the red zone. The thing that really stood out on his performance was his breakaway speed as he easily outdistanced defensive backs on the edge. His scores were the first two since his freshman year.

One conundrum is figuring out how to work him into Kiffin's schemes. Not to discount what Howard did in that game but all his big catches were results of phenomenal observation and counter play-calling by Kiffin. The 53-yard touchdown catch, for instance, was a play the Tide had not run all season but one he had been setting up for a long time.

THE YOUNGSTERS

With a little uncertainty at running back this year, it is likely the Tide lines up in a lot of two tight end sets. When they do, someone in addition to Howard needs to be a receiving threat.

84 Hale Hentges (6'5"/256 lbs) Sophomore, Jefferson City, Mo. - This youngster played in all 15 games as a true freshman, but was rarely targeted as a receiver. Much of his time was spent as a blocker or a decoy as he only caught one pass for 5 yards. He has put on around 20 pounds since this time last year.
87 Miller Forristall (6'5"/220 lbs) Freshman, Cartersville, Ga. - Fresh out of high school, this early enrollee looked impressive in this past April's spring game with five catches for 38 yards. He will likely see some time at H-back and possibly split out wide in certain packages to create mismatches. Expect him to see early playing time.
82 Irvin Smith (6'4"/230 lbs) Freshman, New Orleans, LA - Smith does not have the head start that Forristall has and will have to catch on real quick to avoid a redshirt. Due to the lack of depth at tight end, he may see playing time this fall.

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THE BLOCKERS

Alabama has struggled to sign and develop a quality second tight end as of late. Because of this, they have been forced to move players from other positions.

94 Dakota Ball (6'3"/268 lbs) Senior, Lindale, Ga. - Ball started his Alabama career on the defensive side but has found a home as a blocking tight end. He is a good blocker but is not much of a threat catching the ball. In his career, he has hauled in just one pass for eight yards, which was against Charleston Southern this past season.
89 Brandon Greene (6'5"/307 lbs) Senior, Ellenwood, Ga. - Greene has flip-flopped between #58 and #89 but has seen the vast majority of his playing time on the end of the line. The former tackle had no receptions this past year but had a HUGE catch against LSU in 2014 (thanks to Kiffin, again).

THE WALK-ONS

There is a chance one of these guys goes turn into a serviceable H-back a la Michael Nyswander. They are smaller and a bit more svelte than the blocking tight ends and could be used in certain packages. However, don't expect any major production from any of these guys.

49 Brandon Moore (6'0"/248 lbs) Senior, Cincinnati, Ohio
86 Truett Harris (6'3"/235 lbs) Senior, Brentwood, Tenn.
45 Hunter Bryant (6'5"/226 lbs) Junior, Roswell, Ga.
42 Jacob Parker (6'1"/224 lbs) Junior, Meridianville, Ala.

SUMMARY

O.J. Howard has the NFL in his near future, but the Crimson Tide needs more than just him. Despite all the number one recruiting classes Alabama has recorded in the past several seasons, they have found it difficult to bring in a big time tight end since Howard signed in 2013. Either Hentges or Forristall will need to grow up real fast.