Alabama football making the most of its deep tight end corps via consistent rotation
Alabama could have had a serious logjam among its tight ends. Miller Forristall, Major Tennison and Jahleel Billingsley all returned from varying levels of playing time last year, while converted outside linebacker Cameron Latu had spent over a year developing at the position. Then UA added North Carolina grad transfer Carl Tucker to the mix.
Its answer thus far: find ways to play them all.
UA has managed to find a role for all of its tight ends early in the 2020 season, currently a four-man rotation that could grow if Tennison gets healthy. The depth and versatility of the position groups gives the Crimson Tide’s offense flexibility going into Saturday’s game against Ole Miss.
“We think we have three or four guys that can all contribute at tight end, so we play them situationally,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “We always try to feature what players can do best, so there’s obviously a little bit of that going on.”
Forristall has been the most consistent presence, on the field for most snaps, but Tucker is not far behind: both started the first two games of the season, against Missouri and Texas A&M. Billingsley first appeared in the Texas A&M game on UA’s third possession and Latu in the fifth. Offensive lineman Kendall Randolph maintains his role as a specialty package tight end and saw the field in the first half against the Aggies.
Tennison’s playing time has been limited with an intestinal issue, one that kept Tennison away from the team against Missouri and limited him to playing few snaps in the second half against Texas A&M.
Forristall remains the only tight end with a catch in the young season, catching three passes for 57 yards, but there is reason to believe Tucker can add to that total. He was a receiving threat for the Tar Heels in 2018, with 16 catches for 265 yards.
“He gets to the right spot and he's a really powerful guy in the run game,” UA quarterback Mac Jones said. “Just to have a utility guy like that is really going to help us throughout the year with an extra guy that we can throw the ball to, run behind, things like that.”
The fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it easier for them all to find a role in this year’s team. Alabama prioritized cross-training among position groups as a safeguard against potential testing/quarantining absences; for tight ends, that means all have trained for all alignments for traditional tight ends and at the H wide receiver position, when UA elects to split a tight end into the slot.
UA has also added a package where it can get four tight ends on the field at the same time. Its goal-line package through two games has featured Forristall, Latu and Randolph as traditional tight ends with Tucker lined up as a fullback.
The rotation will change if Tennison is able to return to a role comparable to the one he had last year, but the rotation is unlikely to go away. Alabama could have as many as six capable tight ends at its disposal, and it plans to make the most of that utility.
“But we think all those guys have something that they can contribute, so we try to use that, their skill to help our offense in the best way they can,” Saban said.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson