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2017 Alabama Football Unit Previews: Tight Ends

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With O.J. Howard in the NFL, who will pick up the slack?

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama
Is Miller Forristall ready to step up?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What a dilemma the Crimson Tide had last year. On one hand, Alabama had an NFL-caliber tight end in O.J. Howard, but on the other there was the mad-genius playcalling of Lane Kiffin that did not include throwing to the tight end too much. #AlabamaProblems.

For 2017, Howard and Kiffin have both moved on and Bama fans are left with some uncertainty as to what kind of offense new OC Brian Daboll will run. Interestingly, Daboll spent the last three season as tight ends coach for the Super Bowl 51 Champion New England Patriots, an organization where he has served a total of 12 seasons in some capacity under Brian Belichick.

For 2014 and 2015, Daboll had the luxury of having Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski to make him look good. In 2016, injuries sideline Gronk for most of the year, forcing the Pats to trade for Martellus Bennett - who did not put up near the numbers of the man he was replacing.

If Daboll follows the Patriots model, the tight end should take on a vital role. In a word, it’s about mismatches. And who better to have in a mismatch than a tight end against a smaller defensive back? The real concern is whether the Tide personnel can live up to this lofty archetype.

RETURNING

The good news is that Bama has several tight ends returning. For the first time in awhile, the position has some real depth.

84 Hale Hentges (6'5"/249 lbs) True Junior, Jefferson City, Mo. - Hentges has already played in 30 games in his young career. He is a vital cog in blocking schemes but has rarely been targeted as a receiver. He has four career receptions for 15 yards with no scores. Hentges put on around 20 pounds a year ago but now he is down seven pounds. Pretty soon, it is going to be hard to tell these guys apart. Once again, he should be a fine blocker but not much of a threat to catch a ball. Hentges won the Lee Roy Jordan Headhunter Award after this spring’s A-Day.

87 Miller Forristall (6'5"/238 lbs) True Sophomore, Cartersville, Ga. - Forristall was an early enrollee in 2016 and it helped him get attuned to the college game. As a true freshman, he played in all 15 games and made a couple of big catches including a 32 yarder against Arkansas (see above) that may have been a score had Jalen Hurts led him more. He also had a 22 yard reception versus LSU that got the Tide out of a deep hole at their own 5 yard line and eventually led to the game’s only touchdown. Forristall is up 18 pounds from 220 a year ago. He was presented the Derrick Thomas Community Service Award at the conclusion of spring practice.

82 Irv Smith Jr (6'4"/246 lbs) True Sophomore, New Orleans, LA - Smith played in nine games as a true freshman but did not record a reception. He has bulked up after being listed as 230 lbs a year ago. Smith had a nice A-Day game catching 3 balls for 37 yards but it was a crossing pattern from Tua Tagovailoa that he turned into a 34-yarder (above) that caught fans’ attention. The staff gave him the Jerry Duncan "I Like to Practice" Award.

THE H-BACK

5 Ronnie Clark (6’2”/224) Redshirt Junior, Calera, Ala. - Clark has traveled an unconventional road during his time as a member of the Crimson Tide. Initially recruited as an Athlete (he played outside linebacker, safety, and dual-threat quarterback in high school), it was widely believed that he would be joining the Alabama secondary as a freshman. However due to injuries at running back, he was asked to fill in at that position. Three years and two Achilles tendon injuries later, Clark looks like he has found a home at H-back. With his size and running back experience, he could be a mismatch nightmare for opposing linebackers. Clark could be the kind of H-back the Tide has not had since Jalston Fowler finished his college eligibility in 2014.

THE YOUNGSTERS

Nick Saban lassoed in two 4-stars Texas tight ends for the Class of 2017.

88 Major Tennison (6'5"/245 lbs) Freshman, Flint, Texas - Tennison was an early enrollee and participated in spring drills but was not targeted for a pass in the A-Day game. He could see the field on special teams and maybe late in a blowout, but he is not likely to pass any of the returning veterans just yet. He can also longsnap if needed.

44 Kedrick James (6'5"/272 lbs) Freshman, Waco, Texas - At 272 pounds, he is clearly the biggest of this unit. He is a talent but may need a few appointments with Dr. Cochran.

THE BLOCKERS

In recent seasons, Alabama has moved players, such as Dakota Ball and Brandon Greene, from other positions to act primarily as blocking tight ends on short yardage and goal line situations. With the depth the Tide has built, that may not be necessary this year.

THE WALK-ONS

One of the more intriguing walk-ons is former minor league pitcher Cam Stewart. The Padres are paying the tuition of this 22-year old sophomore who stands at 6'8" and weighs 266 lbs. He could start to see the field this year. The fact that he was given the jersey number 83, might be a hint towards this thought.

Other walk-ons:

  • 40 Giles Amos, So.
  • 42 Jacob Parker, Sr.
  • 45 Hunter Bryant, Sr.
  • 46 Joseph Harvey, Sr.
  • 48 Sean Goodman, So.

SUMMARY

Has Saban developed a cloning machine in Tuscaloosa or is it a mere coincidence that Tennison, Hentges, Smith and Forristall are now all around the same size? The assumptions are that the Daboll offense will be more apt to throwing to the tight ends and H-backs to exploit the mismatches. The weight losses probably signify that Saban would like sleeker models on the end of the lines.

Poll

How are you feeling about this tight end unit.

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    I love this group. They are ready to contribute.
    (162 votes)
  • 51%
    They are good but need to step up.
    (193 votes)
  • 4%
    They are okay but could be a problem.
    (15 votes)
  • 0%
    I am very concerned about this group. (if you don’t see my explanation in comments below, I am probably a troll).
    (3 votes)
373 votes total Vote Now