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Jumbo Package: Billingley returns, Evan Neal drops some weight

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Your latest Crimson Tide news and notes.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Notre Dame vs Alabama Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Tuesday, everyone. Alabama was back at practice yesterday, including Jahleel Billingsley. Michael Casagrande notes that Henry To’o To’o stood out.

— Watching the middle linebackers, the quick burst of speed from Henry To’o To’o’s first step was impressive. Defensive coordinator and middle LB coach Pete Golding praised the former Tennessee linebacker as among the most advanced transfers he’s coached. “The familiarity he’s already had with this defense coming from where he’s come I think has been good for us,” Golding said Sunday.

The linebacker corp is going to be dangerous. Kendall Randolph continues to fend off JC Latham at right tackle, but that is going to be a battle. The rest of the line seems set with Evan Neal, Javion Cohen, Chris Owens and Emil Ekiyor from left to right. WR Xavier Williams is now off the official roster and has not been out there.

Mike Rodak notes that Neal is “down” to 345 lbs. after summer workouts which included those insane box jumps that no man that size should attempt, let along execute.

Saban believes Neal’s natural position is left tackle, and he is being coached this season by Doug Marrone, a longtime NFL offensive line coach who most recently served as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ head coach.

“Every day I try to take something from him,” Neal said. “He definitely has a lot of knowledge of the game and I’m just excited to continue to learn from him.”

If the work ethic and attitude are what they seem to be, Evan is not only going very high in the next draft, but barring injury he is going to be a Chris Samuels type monster once he gets there.

Cecil Hurt notes that Saban used the Billingsley situation to get the leadership message across to his team.

Call it the “Julio Rule.” Saban talks frequently about the importance of Jones as a recruit, not just because he was so talented but also because he set an example of hard work at practice every day.

The 2020 team had numerous players who led that way, so many that the team could have gone on cruise control, especially on offense. The 2021 team may develop that identity, but it is younger and less experienced. The rate of maturity is a critical factor in 2021. That’s why Saban, who wastes no opportunities, made it a subtle talking point in his very first comments after fall practice began.

John Metchie seems impressed with his new QB.

Bryce is probably the most talented guy we’ve had at the position in terms of true dual threat ability. His arm talent is a bit ahead of Jalen Hurts, and he runs better than Tua Tagovailoa. Hopefully he puts it all together. As Bill Connelly notes, Young is the key to Alabama being favored even more heavily than they already are.

What will Bill O’Brien change? Saban has worked through plenty of offensive coordinators in recent years, but new Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian might have fielded the best offense ever last fall. With former Penn State and Houston Texans coach O’Brien taking the playcalling reins, what might he attempt in the name of further evolution?

Just how high is Bryce Young’s ceiling? Young was the No. 1 QB in the 2020 recruiting class and brings both accuracy and a dose of running to the table. He’s going to be good at worst this fall, as will a supporting cast that includes receivers John Metchie III and Jameson Williams (an Ohio State transfer), RBs Brian Robinson Jr. and Jase McClellan, and the requisite blue-chippers. There’s almost nowhere to go but down after last year’s nearly perfect offense. Is Young’s upside enough to keep the Tide near the top of offensive SP+?

That’s the million dollar question for the million dollar man.

Alex Rodriguez was this year’s celebrity speaker, and the message was sound.

“I think he did a great job of talking about being successful as a Yankee when they won the championship in 2009 and how everything was so different in 2010 when they weren’t able to repeat,” Saban explained. “Even though, in his mind, they had a better team.”

Rodriguez, a three-time MVP, won his only World Series ring in 22 seasons with New York in 2009. Alabama players were in elementary school at the time, but learned Friday why the Yankees fell short the next year.

“He talked about it wasn’t the distractions, it was the attractions,” Saban said. “That everybody got more attention. Everybody had more people pulling at them whether it was to speak at banquets or whatever, so it made it much more difficult to focus on the things that you needed to focus on to be the best player that you can be and to be the best teammate that you can be.”

I don’t think many believe that this team will be better than last year, but there is still sufficient rat poison this offseason.

Last, put yourself in a quarterback’s shoes as he tries to get a pass off with Will Anderson on the prowl.

That is terrifying, and he is but a sophomore.

That’s about it for now. Have a great day.

Roll Tide.