There is more than one common thread among the previous two University of Alabama football seasons, both falling short of its national championship expectations. Among that list of possible downfalls is continuity — or a lack thereof.
This could be the season where UA, after years of waiting, experiences the value of continuity.
The Crimson Tide only had one on-field coaching change, in Freddie Roach replacing defensive line coach Brian Baker, and combined with a good amount of returning production could make the 2020 season smoother sailing for UA. The path to that season begins with spring practice on Friday.
The returning production is obvious at positions such as wide receiver and offensive line. DeVonta Smith returns as the reigning leader in receiving yards (1,256) and receiving touchdowns (14). He is also responsible for one of two three-plus receiving touchdown performances against conference foes last year; the other was Jaylen Waddle in the Iron Bowl, UA’s other receiver of note retuning for 2020.
The offensive line returns four starters and saw its depth players get enough reps to know what to do if they win the starting job. The latter can be said for both Chris Owens and Emil Ekiyor Jr., among others.
The story of Owens and Ekiyor is one that extends throughout the offense: one of insufficient experience to qualify as a returning starter, but enough experience to avoid rookie classifications.
That starts with quarterback Mac Jones, who will spend the spring trying to solidify his status as starting quarterback ahead of Taulia Tagovailoa and Bryce Young. Tyrell Shavers and Slade Bolden are two wide receivers with comparable levels of experience, trying to crack the top four at the position.
The same principle extends to the defensive line, where Justin Eboigbe, Byron Young, D.J. Dale and Christian Barmore are among the young players hoping to make a leap forward from freshmen seasons.
“I think confidence is really important, with those guys, and that they continue to develop that in terms of better understanding in what they do so they can play fast and respond and react and not think about what they’ve got to do, and we think those guys have a bright future,” UA coach Nick Saban said of Eboigbe and Young during the season.
No position is projected to benefit from it more than inside linebacker, where Saban said multiple time there is no substitute for experience. The Tide won’t have to create a substitute with the return of Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillon, a redshirt junior and sixth-year senior.
Injuries have also marred the recent UA seasons, thus a lack of continuity was far from the only thing to plague it 2018 and 2019. As 2020 beings, continuity becomes a strength; the benefit will play out over the 15 practices to follow.