There are times when University of Alabama right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. knows good things are coming before the play is even called.
He knows defenses are in trouble when Chris Owens and Kendall Randolph come onto the field.
“It feels good because we know they can’t match up with us,” Wills said.
Owens and Randolph are two offensive linemen turned tight ends, used in special packages when No. 2 Alabama is determined to maul opponents in its run game. Special packages with skill position players are common, but UA has used them with the offensive line frequently and to excellent results; they see no reason to stop when looking ahead to next week’s matchup with No. 1 LSU.
“Well I think to make certain plays effective in your offense, you have to have the ability to block the edge,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “I call it the C area, which may not mean much to you guys, but the third spot away from the center. So, there’s a couple ways you can do it. If you’ve got a big old tight end that’s a good blocker, he can do it.
“If you run tackle over and put an extra tackle over there is another way to do it, or you can just take some of those guys and put them in a position so you don’t have to move anybody else around so you’re not changing what they have to do. Now, a guy’s got to be fairly athletic to do it, which both of the guys that have been able to do it for us this year are. So, it’s been somewhat effective for us.”
The tackle over Saban mentioned is another specialty package the offensive line has been asked to use, one that can create an unbalanced line. In the Arkansas game, for instance, instead of having a guard and a tackle on each side of the center, UA moved left tackle Alex Leatherwood to the other side of the formation, to the right of Wills; thus, left guard Emil Ekiyor Jr. (in place of injured Evan Neal at that point) was the only lineman to the left of the center.
UA has also used tackle over with a tight end in what is normally a left tackle’s spot, thus giving typical line balance but with an extra quality blocker on one side of the formation.
That being the case, offensive linemen are asked to execute plays with a standard tight end attached, with a tight end that’s truly an offensive lineman and tackle over. Wills doesn’t see it as challenging because he says Owens and Randolph are not treated as offensive linemen when they are lined up as tight ends.
“I feel like, in general, everyone has to know what everyone is doing on the field at a certain time to make sure the offense keeps working together,” Wills said. “For somebody to move to a different position, I think it’s just a change of who’s there rather than a change of what’s going on.”
When asked if that means Randolph and Owens have access to the route tree, Wills said yes and added, “It’s coming.”
The burden has not been a hindrance to efficiency. Against Arkansas, UA ran 14 plays with either Owens and Randolph on the field as tight ends and two plays over tackle over. In those 16 plays, UA averaged 6.625 yards per play; nearly half of them resulted in either first downs or touchdowns, five first downs and two touchdowns.
That yards per play number could be better, if both of the touchdowns were not for one yard and one play that was busted by a high snap.
UA has also shown versatility out of the package. It has thrown five times with either Owens or Randolph on the field as a tight end, although not to either one of them yet, and has put both of them on the field at the same time — both times resulting in touchdowns against Arkansas.
Once, UA put Owens as the tight end on one side of the formation and Randolph on the other to score. Earlier, UA had Owens as an inline tight end and Randolph as an off-ball H-Back. Randolph motioned to the right of the formation before the snap; running back Najee Harris ran behind him and fullback Giles Amos for the touchdown.
It’s the possibilities — and the others that have yet to be revealed — that make the package most exciting for Wills.
“It helps us push the tempo, for one,” Wills said, “because they have to get lined up to it, and two, it creates a bunch of different things for them to adjust to: different run plays and different things we can throw at them.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson