First it was an unbalanced line and a linebacker as a fullback, all in the same game. A week later, it was an I-Formation with a running back as the fullback.
Last week it was a second-string wide receiver as a Wildcat quarterback.
In all three games of Steve Sarkisian’s time as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, the No. 2 Crimson Tide has used a specialty package in its high-octane offense. There’s no reason to believe they will stop any time soon.
There is a certain benefit to showing these things early in a season just so defensive coordinators have to prepare for them in later, more critical games, whether one plans to use them or not. If Alabama uses another one Saturday against Southern Miss, it likely won’t be as another decoy for potential postseason opponents: UA sees true value to these packages.
“I think you want to feature the players that you have so if you have players that are capable of doing something, we’ll ask him to do it, which Slade can in this case,” UA coach Nick Saban said of aforementioned Wildcat quarterback Slade Bolden. “We usually decide how we want to do short-yardage from week to week, even though you have some specialty things that can create an advantage, then you obviously want to try to do that in gameplanning.
“I do think that when you have diversity and players that can do multiple things, whether they’re playing offense, defense or special teams, it always enhances your chances of scheming things that can help you be successful.”
Bolden was used as a Wildcat quarterback for one play, a third-and-2 in the third quarter against South Carolina; he ran for two yards and earned the first down.
In the season opener against Duke, UA returned to an old trick: the defensive player as the fullback in a goal line package, with this year’s choice being sophomore linebacker Ale Kaho. There was still the new addition of extra lineman looks, with senior offensive lineman Matt Womack entering the game in addition to the starting five. That was partially a nod to the depth at the position — Saban has said he believes the team has seven linemen good enough to start — but also a different way to manufacture running opportunities.
Against New Mexico State, it was putting both Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. in an I-Formation, with Robinson Jr. as the fullback — and receiving a carry on a fullback dive at one point.
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp certainly noticed the packages as he was preparing for Alabama, able to recall the exact down-and-distance UA was in when the packages were debuted. He, “absolutely,” believes in the power of using them simply to force defenses to prepare for them.
“It makes you adjust, it makes you prepare,” Muschamp said on the SEC teleconference. “You’ve got to prepare for a different look in a critical down and distance. Preparation-wise, you have to rep it and get your team prepared for it. Some of those things as far as Wildcat are staples for us that we rep in the preseason and I think we played the play decently well.”
There are certainly many specialty packages left to come, some that have been alluded to thus far and some that have not. UA has experimented with motioning wide receivers into the backfield this season, presenting nearly endless opportunities that have yet to be exploited.
The same can be said for Bolden as the Wildcat quarterback. Bolden was a quarterback at times for West Monroe High School in Louisiana, his talents being enough to convince a traditionally I-Formation veer team to introduce some Shotgun to its offense.
Saban said Bolden has developed into a, “core special teams guy,” and serves as the scout-team quarterback whenever UA plays against a mobile quarterback. A pass from that formation seems inevitable, among other options.
UA’s offensive players are ready to see the ideas come to reality.
“When they put it in, we were real excited for it,” wide receiver DeVonta Smith said. “It’s great to have somebody that can contribute to our team and help our defense at the same time during practice, and then come Saturday and contribute to the team.”