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Meet the New Guys: Tight Ends and Special Teams

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Who will replace O.J. Howard, Cole Mazza, and Adam Griffith?

NCAA Football: Cowboys Classic-Wisconsin vs Alabama Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Since the tight ends aren’t numerous enough to make up a full article by themselves, I’m including them this week with the two specialists in the 2017 class. Alabama lost a 3-year starter, O.J. Howard, at tight end, a 4-year starter, Cole Mazza, at long snapper, and a 3-year starter, Adam Griffith, at kicker. That’s a lot of shoes to fill.

I will, as usual, speak freely with terms such as SPARQ and Z-score when discussing athleticism, so if you don’t know what those are, look in the box below for some guidance.

For continuity within this series, I will always use 247sports.com ‘s composite rankings for a player’s star rating and national and state rankings. All heights, weights, and other athletic tests come from espn.com, who integrates their data with that of Nike’s Combine results.


Major Tennison

A prototypical tight end in every sense, Major Tennison is 6’5” 245 with a combination of athleticism and body type that absolutely screams that he was born to play one position: tight end.

Pros

He displays very impressive long speed in a straight line, and is always a mismatch on deep seam routes when matched up man-to-man against a linebacker or even safety. On top of that, he’s very fluid and comfortable at catching the ball over his shoulder while in stride, rather than trying to turn and catch like many high school receivers do.

On shorter routes, he’s generally a natural pass catcher, never letting the ball past his hands and into his body, and I only saw one double-clutch in two years’ worth of highlights.

He’s an extremely aggressive blocker with impressive and active footwork, and can swing around to lead block in space or hold his own when downblocking near the line of scrimmage.

Cons

He has very limited agility, which is evident in both his route-running and his ability after the catch. His routes are almost always rounded off rather than precise, and his initial acceleration from the line of scrimmage is often painfully slow. When he has the ball in his hands, it takes him about 10 too many steps to slow down before he can attempt a juke.

As a blocker, he’ll have to be careful not to let his tenacity get the better of him, as it could lead to holding calls from a particularly picky referee.

Prediction

With Hale Hentges and Miller Forristall locking down the top two tight end spots, and the athletic Irv Smith coming off of his redshirt year, I don’t foresee Tennison getting much of a chance for playing time this year, barring an injury. However, I think he will get just enough mop up duty that he doesn’t actually redshirt, and is part of the second rotation with Smith.


Kedrick James

Kedrick James is one of, if not the, least athletic players recruited to Alabama—outside of some quarterbacks— since I’ve started keeping SPARQ records. Every one of his four athletic tests are pretty disappointing for a 245 pound tight end, especially the 5.13 forty-yard dash.

Pros

His main asset is his blocking ability. He’s got great balance, good functional strength, good footwork, and a perfectly built, stout body for being an in-line blocker. He uses his hands well and keeps them inside the pads of the defender, getting the better leverage and driving them back.

He’s also sneakily good at getting yards after the catch, and uses his exceptional balance and stout center of gravity to stay upright much longer than he should be able to.

Cons

I’m not sure he’ll ever be known for being a receiver. While he has displayed some pretty good hands in contested catches, his lack of speed or explosiveness make it unlikely he’ll be open often enough to ever make much of a difference in the passing game.

Prediction

Tennison will likely be ahead of James in year one, so I expect James to end up redshirting this year, unless he proves his worth in blocking for the special teams.


Thomas Fletcher

Admittedly, I don’t know much about long-snapper technique and what to look for. I do, however, know that he won the Vegas XXVII competition with Rubio Long Snapping camp, and was also the first ever back-to-back winner there. His average snap velocity at the most recent camp was 23.8 yards/second.

Aside from that, he’s a long snapper that was good enough to actually be offered a scholarship, so that alone tells just how good he is at snapping the ball. By all accounts, Fletcher is about as perfectly consistent as they come.

Prediction

With Cole Mazza on the way out after manning the position flawlessly for 4 years, Fletcher will have big shoes to fill. He’ll have to compete with last year’s preferred walk-on, Scott Meyer, for the job, but I expect that a long snapper on scholarship will likely be the starter for the next four years.


Joseph Bulovas

Fun fact: Bulovas was actually the starting QB for his high school his sophomore year, leading the team to a 9-1 record, before making a permanent switch to special teams for the rest of his career. He’s a fairly highly ranked kicker and has the leg to compete with anyone in the nation.

It’s hard for me to really be able to scrutinize his mechanics with blurry internet videos, but I can glean a few things. He has a very quick strike and short plant steps to go with a shorter follow-through than many kickers. This lets him excel at getting kicks to go high, fast— which is a huge benefit in that his field goals will be very difficult to block and his kickoffs should have a lot of hang time. That is likely, however, at the expense of the ability to get pure distance on field goal attempts.

He has the accuracy and the leg to be an effective college kicker, but his mental fortitude and consistency remains to be seen, and there’s little I can do to predict that.

I figure that Bulovas will end up redshirting this year (technically, I think he’s a blue shirt) while Andy Pappanastos takes the kicking duties in his final season, and then Bulovas will have the next four years after that to man the position himself. But, if he proves good enough, I’m sure the coaches would have no problem unseating the senior for a freshman kicking phenom.