Mike Locksley has no nickname among his Alabama players. The conductor of one of the most dangerous offenses in college football history can be content with his title of offensive coordinator.
He is never at the center of the offense, but he’s the one behind it all.
“It’s easy when you have a lot of really good players,” Locksley said. “The challenging part is trying to make those guys understand that the ball is going to be spread around.”
Alabama has eight offensive players with 500 or more yards this season: three running backs, four wide receivers and a tight end. There are four players with four or more rushing touchdowns and five players with five or more receiving touchdowns.
Its senior running back has never had 20 carries in a game. The leading receiver has only 17 more catches than the No. 2 option, who has only one more catch than the No. 3 option. Even the quarterbacks share responsibility.
“We rotate three or four running backs a game, receivers are rotating in and out, we rotate quarterbacks,” running back Damien Harris said. “It keeps everybody fresh, it keeps everybody healthy.”
Harris has sophomore Najee Harris and junior Josh Jacobs to share the load. Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy won the Biletnikoff, but only led the team in receiving yards in six of 13 games.
It keeps defenses from being too sure about where the ball is going. It also keeps Alabama players from feeling like too much burden falls on them.
“The pressure to make a play is never there,” Harris said. “Number one, because I’m confident in myself and my ability. Number two, because we have a lot of guys out there that can make plays.”
Even Locksley said he doesn’t feel pressure in his position. Alabama has the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense this season and is facing the only offense that has scored more points than that. The goal when the opposing offense can be so lethal is to control the tempo of the game, he said. That’s more about being efficient than being methodical.
“We’ve been really fortunate there have been some first and second downs where we throw a five-yard slant and it goes 60 yards,” he said. “That’s still being efficient, and we’re not going to apologize for scoring fast, but in the grand scheme of things, the goal is to be efficient on first and second downs, keeping it manageable on third downs and being able to move the ball.”
Jeudy is one of the players who has taken some five-yard slants all the way to the end zone. Locksley was his position coach last year, and he began preaching to the receivers about working together instead of gunning for individual stats.
Locksley knew what he was working with when Alabama started the season. The players knew it, too.
“We have four other receivers that can do the same thing I’m doing,” Jeudy said.
Damien Harris might have the unequivocal centerpiece of another team’s offense, piling up personal stats. Instead, he’s put pressure on himself in a leadership role.
“He’s a guy that has had the opportunity to break the all-time rushing record here at Alabama but because of how the offense has kind of been molded this year, he may not have some of the individual statistics that he would like,” Locksley said. “But again, it’s opened up the door for us to be really good on offense and that people have to defend every aspect of the system.”
Opposing defense have struggled with that all season long. Alabama’s offense set school records for passing in 2015 and rushing in 2016, and now the Crimson Tide has rewritten the record book again.
It wasn’t a one-man job on the field. But Locksley was the one who brought it all together.
“My challenge has been to get the ball to as many of those playmakers as I can in space and let those guys make plays,” Locksley said. “They’ve done that.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.