Joe Pannunzio wears an easy smile. It’s what he does. Those who’ve come to know the man swear by him. He’s the type of guy who makes you feel better about yourself after having an encounter with him.
The 57-year-old University of Alabama tight ends coach has a charm about him. He’ll apply that charisma to a talented group of blockers and pass catchers this season.
O.J. Howard is gone, as too are his 45 receptions from a season ago. But all is not lost. Not by a long shot.
Whether it be Miller Forristall, now a sophomore, Irv Smith, a redshirt freshman, Hale Hentges, the veteran, or Major Tennison, the rookie, there is talent to go around.
It’s true that the tight end/h-back group that returns caught just nine passes for 88 yards. It’s also true that you can’t solely judge the value of a tight end by receiving numbers.
At Alabama, a tight end has to embrace blocking before anything else.
Tight ends at Alabama are asked to play in-line or spread out. H-backs are asked to play in the backfield and offset at the end of the line. And they’re all asked to block.
This year, there are plenty of guys who may be called upon.
“There’s a good bit of depth,” junior Hale Hentges said. “We have guys like Irv Smith, who is extremely good. A lot of people haven’t heard much about him yet just because he didn’t play a whole lot last year, but this guy has a ton of talent. I’m sure you guys are going to be seeing him coming up in the coming season.
“Then we have another guy, Major Tennison, who has done a really good job for us. He’s just a freshman, he’s trying to figure it out, but he’s getting better and better every day. Often times, as freshmen do, they struggle at first then they get better and better. I’m seeing that happen right before my very eyes.”
Smith and Tennison are both young, both freshmen. UA head coach Nick Saban said he likes what he’s seen from Smith.
“Irv Smith played some last year, has really shown a lot of potential to either play on the line as a tight end, off the line as an H or be flexed out, so he’s got really good versatility,” Saban said.
Forristall, who really began to emerge last season, has, and at 6-foot-5, 238 pounds he’s a big target.
UA head coach Nick Saban said he brings a receiver element to the position.
“Miller Forristall played a lot last year for us, he’s gotten bigger and stronger so he’ll probably play a little more H,” Saban said. “He’s a little more OJ-like in terms of very good receiver. OJ became a very good blocker but at the early stages of his career that was one of the things he needed to improve on. I think Miller is making progress in that area.”
There’s also Ronnie Clark, who transitioned to h-back from running back.
All in all, there is depth at the position even in young and inexperienced. The group doesn’t lack confidence though.
“I don’t think we’ll drop off at all,” Hentges said.
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.