There have been moments of brilliance with University of Alabama tight ends. Think O.J. Howard and the past two national championships. The former Crimson Tide standout had a 68-yard touchdown reception last season and a two 50-plus yarders the year prior.
But beyond that, the tight end group hasn’t been one to draw much excitement.
Things could change.
“We definitely have some more opportunities in the passing game,” junior tight end Hale Hentges said. “… It’s up to us to make the most of that and really capitalize on that because they’re calling our number a little bit more this year.”
Howard had 45 receptions last season, just behind the Crimson Tide’s leading receivers, ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley. With Howard gone, Hentges will likely fill the void, along with sophomores Miller Forristall and Irv Smith Jr. Alabama also gained two freshmen, Kedrick James and Major Tennison.
Last season, Forristall and Hentges were further down the receiving list with five and three catches, respectively. Brandon Greene, another tight end who graduated, had one.
“I think systematically, we’ll probably use the tight ends a little better,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said last week. “Systematically.”
With Brian Daboll as the new offensive coordinator, that shouldn’t be an issue. Daboll was the New England Patriots’ tight ends coach for three seasons before joining the Crimson Tide. He helped create the football monster that is Rob Gronkowski.
Two scrimmages down, and Daboll’s system is in place. Hentges thinks it’s a complicated offense – in a good way – that allows the team to switch out personnel. He described it as explosive and intricate.
“We can have one tight end in the game, or we can have three tight ends in the game, or we could have all wide receivers,” Hentges said. “It gives us flexibility, and we have to be athletes and accomplish that. Having that versatility really helps us go to a new level.”
The main responsibility of the tight ends remains the same: block for the running game.
“Even if they don’t get all the catches, they’re in there almost like an actual lineman,” left guard Ross Pierschbacher said. “Nice to have those guys up there, know what they are doing (and) big bodies.”
Hentges and Forristall are both 6-foot-5. Smith is an inch shorter. They all weigh at least 238 pounds, with Forristall setting that benchmark.
Alabama finished 12th in the nation last season with an average of 245 rushing yards per game and returns all the main running backs.
When it comes to the current playbook, Hentges couldn’t give a number on how much is Alabama versus Patriots. It’s sure to be a mix of standout moments like Howard’s and things that have yet to be seen.
“I can tell you that we do have a lot of the other stuff we did in the past that has worked great for us,” Hentges said, “and a lot of it’s new.”