EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the seventh installment in a nine-part series looking ahead to the start of Alabama football fall practice. Today we look at the tight end position:
In a nutshell: everyone. As deep as Alabama is at several offensive positions, tight end (and, depending on the offensive formation, the closely related H-back) might be the deepest position of all. Not only do the two players who shared tight end starting duties for the year return, but also another early-season contributor who was injured after three games and two other promising sophomores. Irv Smith Jr. and Hale Hentges shared the starting duties in 2017 and while they were not the passing-game threat that eventual NFL first-round draft choice O.J. Howard was in 2016, both were strong blockers and decent receivers. Smith, in fact, is part of the answer to a deceptively simple-sounding trivia question: Who is Alabama’s top returning receiver (number of catches) in 2018? Smith is one-third of the answer, joining wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and running back Josh Jacobs, each of whom had 14 catches in 2017. (Calvin Ridley was the leader with 63.) The Crimson Tide has changed offensive coordinators from Brian Daboll to Mike Locksley, but Locksley is expected to continue utilizing both Smith and Hentges (who had seven catches for 75 yards) in the passing game. Miller Forrestal, who sustained a torn knee ligament in the third game of the 2017 season, also returns and could be a receiving threat. Forrestal had one catch last season. Sophomores Kedrick James and Major Tennison, who each appeared in five games last season, add depth. Veteran Ronnie Clark, who substitutes for UA at running back, is listed as an H-back on the 2018 roster and could see action in that role depending on the offensive formation.
Alabama signed one tight end, Michael Parker of Huntsville, in February. He faces substantial competition in looking for first-year playing time.
The tight end position has been used primarily and successfully for blocking under Nick Saban. This group has enough physicality to do that and could also play an important role in the passing game, especially considering the depth and diversity at the position; That’s especially true if Forrestal can return to his pre-injury form.