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2018 Alabama Football Unit Previews: Tight Ends

Will this be the year the tight ends are used more?

NCAA Football: Alabama at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

For all the words written about Brian Daboll’s experience with tight ends and about how he could bring them more targets, we saw little of it in 2017. In fact, the tight ends only caught 24 passes last season, the lowest number of the Saban era (though, to be fair, 2013 and 2014 saw the tight ends get a lower percentage of the total receptions than 2017).

Despite that, Alabama does boast a deep group of tight ends.

The Starters

Hale Hentges

You wouldn’t know it from the stat sheet, Hentges has been contributing for Alabama since first arriving in 2015. He’s played in every game, making 13 starts along the way. His primary role has been that of a blocker, having only recorded 11 career receptions, seven of which came last season; and he has played his role admirably. He earned some preseason accolades, being named to the John Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s top tight end, and the Wuerffel Trophy, which goes to the “Outstanding Player in the Community,” watch lists.

Hentges did make a big jump from his sophomore to junior years, partially due to the departure of O.J. Howard; but he’s not likely to become a prolific pass catcher as a senior. And there’s nothing wrong with that. He’ll help pave the way for one of the best running back stables in the country and should catch the odd pass here and there.

Irv Smith Jr.

Smith, son of a former first round pick, is a good complement to Hentges. That’s not to say Smith is a poor blocker by any means; but where Hentges is a better blocker than pass catcher, it’s reversed for Smith.

After primarily seeing time on special teams as a freshman, Smith took a huge step forward in 2017. He was the starting tight end against Florida State and went on to earn three more starts while playing in all 14 games. Smith caught 14 passes, more than all the other tight ends combined; and he proved to be a reliable option in the redzone, hauling in three receptions for three touchdowns.

The Recovering

Miller Forristall

Forristall had a promising true freshman campaign in 2016, earning the first start of the year against USC. His 5 receptions for 73 yards, all of which came against SEC foes, was second among tight ends after Howard. Unfortunately, his development in his sophomore year Forristalled (I do not apologize for this pun) after he suffered an injury during the third game of the season.

He received a medical redshirt for that and will look to pick up where he left off. Forristall will have his work cut out for him, of course, with Smith and Hentges having done well as starters last season. Plus, the next player on this list is quietly aiming for a breakout season.

The Reserves

Kedrick James

James is a big-bodied tight end who added 8 lbs since the spring, filling out to 6’5, 263lbs. He could easily start the 2018 season as the #3 tight end. During at least one recent practice, he was third in line after Smith and Hentges; and he reportedly had quite an outing at the first fall scrimmage, nabbing two touchdowns.

There’s still a lot of time to go in fall camp; but if James continues to perform, he may force his way into playing time. A tight end with that size and pass-catching ability would be a handy option to have on the field.

Major Tennison

Coming in as part of the class of 2017 with Kedrick James, Tennison played sparingly as a freshman; and that doesn’t appear likely to change for the upcoming year, especially with how James has been looking. Tennison could see his role grow somewhat as a back-up, but he will likely have to bide his time for another year unless the injury bug strikes.

The Newcomer

Michael Parker

Parker, a former three star recruit, seemed headed for a greyshirt this past recruiting cycle. However, Alabama missed on some targets; and the numbers worked out for Parker. He has good size, measuring at 6’6; but he is in need of some of that Scott Cochran magic since he’s listed at just 224lbs. In years past, we almost definitely would not have seen Parker take the field as he spent a year bulking up and getting acclimated; but, with the new redshirt rule, there’s the possibility of seeing him get a little playing time (I’m looking at you, Citadel).

Depth Chart

First team: Hale Hentges, Irv Smith

Second team: Miller Forristall, Kedrick James

Third team: Major Tennison, Michael Parker