Last year I laughed when I heard Michael Williams state that he wanted to be a vertical threat in the passing game. I mean, seriously, I felt like the Continental Drift moved more swiftly than this big glorified third tackle. But, then I saw him get deep on a fake field goal attempt against Arkansas and suddenly I realized that there was much more to this big TE than meets the eye! While Williams acquitted himself as a dual threat TE, Brad Smelley had the season of all seasons last year. Down the stretch, the Smelley cat became McCarron’s go to receiver and they kept feeding him every Saturday on critical third downs. Some credit Smelley’s emergence as a key factor in the BCS Championship game as John Chavis and the LSU defense had to commit to stopping Smelley and that opened up passing lanes for Norwood, Bell and company.
Well, this year there is no Smelley cat to turn to. In his stead are three unproven TE’s and one former Auburn commit who is a former RB…and a former LB… and now current H back – Brent Calloway. While Williams will anchor the TE position in stellar fashion, the H back position comes in as a pretty significant question mark. In fact, the H Back position is so unsettled, Jalston Fowler has been taking half of his reps at this position. Some are even saying that walk on Kelly Johnson may get a significant amount of playing time here. But, if Alabama cannot find a suitable replacement for Smelley, I suspect the offense will elect to work out of a three wide receiver set much more this season.
The Projected Starters (H Back Included)
Michael Williams – 6’6, 270. Redshirt senior – 4 Star recruit.
Big Michael Williams showed up on campus in 2008 as a 4 star defensive end but he was one of those guys who also played TE in high school. Eventually, as the need arose, Williams moved across to become a massive third tackle on the Bama OL….or so we thought until 2011. In 2009, big Mike caught 3 passes and in 2010 he graduated up to 8 whole passes. That’s why I literally laughed out loud when he said he wanted to be a vertical threat in the passing game. Whuh? Well, Williams showed me – he caught 16 passes for 191 yards and 2 TDs. In fact, except for one bizarre play against LSU, Williams had a stellar year last year. He’s a tremendous bulldozing blocker but he also exhibited nice hands, as well. Heck, I just read a post by Todd McShay reviewing Williams as a surprisingly good TE – how’s that for recognition? As long as Williams stays healthy, the Tide will be in good hands at the TE position.
Brent Calloway – 6’1, 220. Redshirt freshman – 4 star recruit.
If you are reading this blog then I’m pretty sure you are aware of the Brent Calloway saga. You’ll remember he first committed to Alabama and then reneged on that commitment during the Army All American game during what seemed to be a forced on camera interview. Then, for the next few weeks, there was story after rumor after story after rumor about the tug of war going on in his own home and with his high school coach. Eventually, Calloway signed with the good guys and reluctantly agreed to play LB even though his true love was RB. However, once Calloway got to campus Dee Hart blew out his knee and Calloway was suddenly needed for depth at the RB position. While I never thought he was a good fit at LB, I also never saw him as a feature RB, either. But, I will tell you that the H Back position was created for a guy like Brent Calloway to excel and it’s my guess that he becomes the true H for this team. Calloway combines size, speed and athleticism to form a pretty deadly combo at H back. While he’s too slow to be a feature RB, he’s got a ton of speed for the H position and will certainly pose mismatches for any unsuspecting LBs who get locked up in coverage. I really think Brent has finally found a home and I expect him to excel in his new role.
Jalston Fowler – 6’1, 246. Redshirt Junior.
Fowler has been taking nearly half of his reps at the H back position and, at his size, you’d think he might be a natural as a blocking H back. But, what about his hands? Can Nudie catch? Surely not. Well, doubters, watch the beast reel this one in: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2wP0rMBZko . If you didn’t click the link, you missed seeing Fowler split out as a WR and make a crazy good one handed catch in the back of the end zone. The Beast does it all, people!!!!! (Insert man crush here).
Malcome Faciane – 6’5, 259. Redshirt freshman – 3 Star recruit.
I’m going to be honest with you – I’m struggling with the depth chart pecking order at TE/H back. I list Faciane as the top backup simply because I believe he has the talent and size to take Williams’ spot at the position if something happened to him. Faciane suffered a knee injury during his senior season of high school so his stock was a bit low when he came in. All signs point to a full recovery and a kid who is just now starting to get his groove back. He’s big. He’s athletic. He’s Michael Williams lite.
Brian Vogler – 6’7, 252. Redshirt sophomore – 4 Star recruit.
There is very, very little that separates Vogler from Jones, in my opinion. Even their A Day stats are nearly identical. Vogler is slightly bigger and comes in with a slightly better high school resume so I’m listing him above Jones. But, that being said, at 6-7 Vogler cannot function as an H Back because at his height he’ll be unable to get any leverage out of a two point stance. So, I see Vogler’s future strictly as the second tight end – the pass catching bookend to Williams. If Vogler could become more reliable at the point of attack, you could see shades of Collin Peek here but, for now, he’s more of a pass catcher than a blocker.
Harrison Jones – 6’4, 248. Redshirt sophomore – 3 Star recruit.
If the Jones name rings a bell then it should. Harrison’s brother is Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones, the current center on the Bama O-line. Harrison has long toiled in the shadow of his big brother and it appears it will be that way at least for one more year. Jones (Harrison, that is) has gotten better and better during his two years at TE and he is a kid that can play TE as well as H back, so he’s versatile. But, like Vogler, until he becomes more dominant with his blocking game, he will continue to be the second TE or H back on the team. Incidentally, I don’t think he’s quite as athletic as Brad Smelley so H back isn’t really a true fit for Jones in my opinion.
Kurt Freitag – 6’3, 245. True freshman – 3 star recruit.
Freitag was a guy that I was really hoping the Tide would get in this past signing class. His size is prototypical for the Saban offense and he’s shown very good athleticism for either the H back role or the TE role. I think Freitag will redshirt this season and then next season he should get on the field, forcing Verne Lundquist to mutter something about the kid named Freeze Tag, er, Freeze Bag, er Fry bag…
Kelly Johnson – 6’3, 230. Senior – walk on.
Kelly Johnson? The former Braves second baseman? Uh, no. Kelly Johnson is a dedicated senior walk on who’s name has bubbled up on bulletin boards and press conferences in the last couple of weeks. What role he will play is a question mark but one thing that can’t be questioned is his dedication. If you see #31 trotting into the huddle, before you ask “who the crap is #31”, remember I told you about him.
First, a note about the “Incoming” section. The kids in this section have only given a verbal commitment to Alabama and, as we’ve seen in recruiting, things can change before signing day. But, with that being said, I think it’s important to know what the future holds at the position. Here’s a look at the TEs coming soon (2013 class) to a campus near you.
O J Howard – 6’6, 226. 5 Star from Autauga, AL.
Howard currently stars for his high school team as their TE, DE, WR and even QB. This athletically gifted big man already runs in the 4.6 range and, as he fills out, he’s expected to gain a little bit of speed, too. He’s already a very skilled receiver so he just needs to fill out just a wee bit to become an unholy nightmare at the TE position. With his size and skills, he could be redefining the position at Alabama when he comes on board, much in the way Rob Gronkowski has redefined the position in the NFL. Howard has blown up every 7 on 7 camp he’s been to and was recently moved to a 5 star prospect as a result. STUD. He’d play right now if he were on campus.
With Michael Williams anchoring the TE position (vertical threat or not), the only remaining question is who will man the H Back position. And, before you poo-poo the H back position (H is for hybrid – part fullback and part TE), you need to remember the names of Preston Dial and Brad Smelley. These two kids were pivitol to the two Alabama championship teams as they became reliable third down targets for their Bama QBs. As long as Saban has been leading the charge in college football, he’s had exceptional TEs leading the way. If Calloway or Fowler can take hold of the H back position then the 2012 TEs will once again be feared. Also, I think there is some depth there as I do think that Faciane, Vogler and Jones each can be very good in their own right. Each one of them has a particular set of skills that will be needed from time to time this year. But, secretly, I do wish Howard was already in the fold as he has the makings of an exceptional all around TE.