Crimson Tide Fall Camp Preview: Offense
The Alabama Crimson Tide officially begins fall camp on Thursday, August 4. In a two-part series, Mason Woods and Kendell Hollowell will take a deep dive into both sides of the ball and discuss important storylines to follow, players that will generate a lot of buzz and a breakdown of each position group. We’ll start on the offensive side of the ball.
Kendell - Chemistry between Bryce Young and Jermaine Burton
Young quickly developed a strong rapport with Jameson Williams that was on full display in Alabama’s season opener against Miami. The two were in sync all year and became one of college football’s most feared duos. Can the Heisman-winning quarterback develop a similar kind of connection with Burton?
Burton likely won't have the same kind of season as Williams, but he does give Young a new vertical threat and excellent route runner.
Young and Burton had the privilege of getting an entire spring period to get acclimated with another after the wideout transferred from Georgia in January. Williams did not come in until the summer last season. The Alabama signal-caller described Burton as someone who came in with a “professional mindset”. They are also familiar with each other through their days of playing high school football in California.
Burton is expected to be the feature wide receiver in the Crimson Tide offense after losing three of its top four pass catchers from a year ago. His connection with Young will be an essential part of Alabama's offense and all reports from spring practice point to the duo blossoming by the time the Tide open the season on September 3 against Utah State. The junior wideout spent two seasons in a run-first offense for Georgia and moves into a more pass-friendly offense with Alabama. Burton has played in 24 career games, the most by any wide receiver on the roster.
Mason - Who emerges as Evan Neal's replacement?
Evan Neal is officially a New York Giant after being selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. While this was a foregone conclusion for the Crimson Tide sometime ago, it still leaves Alabama with a massive hole to fill on the offensive line.
In steps former Vanderbilt Commodore Tyler Steen. Steen announced his transfer to the Crimson Tide in April, so he did not participate in the Tide's spring practice period, but the three-year starter looks to be an early favorite to win the job. The former three-star has an ideal build for an offensive tackle, standing at 6-foot-5, 315 lbs., but struggled against some of the SEC's best in his time in Nashville.
Outside of Steen, the Tide features a few names that could also potentially fill the void left by Neal. Most notably, J.C. Latham, the former five-star from IMG Academy in Florida.
Latham is a 6-foot-6, 326 lb. behemoth that joined the Tide last season as one of the top rated prospects in the class. Though he saw limited action in his freshman season, the Oak Creek, WI native possesses all the physical tools necessary to play at a very high level in the SEC. Latham certainly lacks the experience of a player like Steen, but could make up for it with raw ability.
Kendell - How does Alabama's offense progress in year two under Bill O'Brien?
The decision to hire Bill O’Brien as the offensive coordinator after Steve Sarkisian left for Texas was met with a lot of criticism because of the way his tenure ended as the Houston Texans head coach. The caveat to O' Brien's hiring; however, was that he was solely bad as a general manager, not as a coach. He won four division titles and finished second another year in six full seasons. Last year, Alabama ranked sixth in scoring offense, fourth in passing offense and seventh in total offense.
Year two is generally when quarterbacks and coordinators really click together. Young and O’Brien are familiar with one another after going through an entire season and two spring periods together. The Alabama signal-caller described their relationship as, “really close on and off the field.”
Though his play calling was under fire in the national championship, I’ll defend O’Brien again. The Tide struggled mightily at wide receiver when Jameson Williams and John Metchie were out and they also struggled to create any kind of protection for their Heisman-winning quarterback. Young was sacked four times, hit 10 times and pressured on 44.3 percent of his dropbacks.
Where O’Brien can improve is creativity in his play calling, particularly in the red zone. This Alabama team has a ton of weapons offensively, but how O’Brien best utilizes them this season remains to be seen.
Mason - Which veteran receiver is going to step up?
Obviously the influx of transfer talent at wide receiver this offseason has muddied things up from a prediction standpoint. I simply don't know where exactly Jermaine Burton and Tyler Harrell will into the offense, but I do know that the Tide has a plethora of talent at the position, coming not only from its newest additions.
Traeshon Holden and Ja'Corey Brooks are two players that likely got a bad rep from many fans due to the way last season ended, but remain as uber-talented targets that are waiting to be unleashed.
Holden is a former four-star prospect entering his third year in the program and has shown several flashes of greatness, but only flashes. The Harbor City, CA native has struggled to put it all together consistently enough to find himself significant playing time, not to mention he has been buried behind a treasure trove of first round picks at the position. Now, with a full offseason of starter level reps under his belt, the receiver could be primed for a breakout season.
Brooks enters just his second season with the team, but has already proven to have an extremely high ceiling. A former five-star prospect in the 2021 cycle, Brooks is a lengthy deep threat that has great hands and a wide catch radius. Look no further than Bryce Young's game tying touchdown pass in last year's Iron Bowl for proof of his ability. Like Holden, Brooks now has a full offseason of first team reps under his belt and looks ready to make his name known in 2022.
Rising Offensive Stars
Kendell - Jase McClellan
McClellan returns for his junior season after suffering a season-ending knee injury against Ole Miss last year. He participated in drills during spring practice and wore a non-contact jersey. The Aledo, TX native was fully cleared in the summer and began training with former Auburn running back Brad Lester, the same trainer that worked with Najee Harris before the 2020 season.
Lester posted a video of McClellan looking sharp going through drills in May. Before his injury, McClellan rushed for 191 yards on 40 carries and one touchdown and added 10 receptions for 97 yards and three more touchdowns. He was the clear No. 2 running back behind Brian Robinson and provided versatility to the Crimson Tide offense. McClellan received 10-plus touches in three of the four complete games he played.
Jahmyr Gibbs will be the starter in the backfield for the Crimson Tide, but he won’t be the only running back to have a significant role in the Alabama offense. Gibbs is the ultimate weapon and can be utilized a number of different ways, so don’t expect him to be given 20-25 carries every game. Alabama will need another back to step up and my pick is McClellan.
Mason - Aaron Anderson
Aaron Anderson is not the same player as Jaylen Waddle, but the 5-foot-9, 185 lb. receiver's dynamic blend of devastating speed and incredible athleticism make him an easy comparison. Anderson enters his first season with the team, but turned heads throughout the spring period with his eagerness to earn a larger role within the offense.
In April, Young spoke about the young wideout, saying, "It’s a complicated offense at first when you’ve just came from high school. There’s going to be adjustments. There’s going to be guys running the wrong route or making a poor read on a route, whatever it may be. But what I love about this young group is, everything they do, they do full speed."
Anderson also earned the cosign from Saban during an April press conference following a spring practice when the coach spoke about an impressive play the freshman had made. Saban said, "Little Aaron Anderson had a couple big plays. Did a nice job. Really good run after catch ability. Took a five-yard play and ran for 35, 40 yards with the first team defense. So, I think the receivers are coming along."
While he is unlikely to see significant time this season due to the incredible amount of talent at the position, Anderson could certainly work his way into an effective role within the rotation.
Kendell - Quarterbacks
Heisman-trophy winner Bryce Young is back at the helm. The California native shattered the Crimson Tide record book in his first season as the Alabama signal-caller. A potential top pick in next year’s NFL draft, Young’s physical attributes are off the charts and his leadership abilities
Redshirt freshman Jalen Milroe is expected to be Young’s backup, but nothing is ever a foregone conclusion. Five-star freshman Ty Simpson was on campus for spring practice. Both guys had a solid outing on A-Day, which only intensifies the battle. Milroe is built like a linebacker, he’s a strong, powerful runner that can make defenders miss in space. The young quarterback has tremendous arm strength and a bright future ahead of him. Milroe saw action in four games last season, completing 3-of-7 passes for 41 yards and a touchdown through and added 57 rushing yards. Simpson is a natural thrower of the football and displays good mobility.
Nick Saban knows the value of the backup quarterback position. Whether it was Tua Tagovailoa replacing Jalen Hurts in the 2018 national championship, Hurts stepping in for an injured Tagovailoa in the SEC Championship game the following season or Mac Jones becoming the starter late in the 2019 season.
Mason - Wide Receivers
This year's crop of wideouts is much deeper than last season's unit. It may seem outrageous considering what the team lost, but from top to bottom, the Crimson Tide wide receiver room looks to be in a better spot heading into the 2022 season.
Alabama welcomed two transfers who are expected to be major contributors. Jermaine Burton and Tyler Harrell joined an already loaded group of wideouts, but are both extremely dynamic in their own rights.
Burton is a surgical technician on the field that possesses the ability to run extremely smooth routes and haul in nearly everything thrown at him. Harrell, while he may lack the polish of a player like Burton, makes up for it with absolutely blazing speed. The arrival of both players, while it may have surprised some Tide fans, brings unique abilities that the unit lacked prior.
Outside of the transfer duo, Alabama features two veterans of the program in Traeshon Holden and Ja'Corey Brooks. Both have seen limited action in their time in Tuscaloosa, but look poised for breakout seasons.
In the slot, the Tide features several options, all of which are equally as exciting. Sophomore Christian Leary saw snaps last season as both receiver and running back, but was challenged by fellow second year player JoJo Earle. Both possess game breaking speed, but one will have to separate himself by the end of fall camp.
Freshmen Kendrick Law and Aaron Anderson are two young wideouts that could push for playing time in their first year, but both will likely be used as rotational pieces.
Kendell - Tight Ends
Cameron Latu emerged as Alabama’s top target at tight end last season. His first two catches resulted in touchdowns and he ended the year with a school record in touchdowns by a tight end with eight. Latu can create mismatches because of his size and athleticism. The senior has a full year under his belt and is primed to take the next step in 2022. Sophomore Robbie Ouzts saw action in 12 games last season but only caught one catch for eight yards. He was used primarily on special teams and as a blocker in short yardage situations.
Freshman Amari Niblack, Elijah Brown and Danny Lewis all signed with Alabama in the 2022 recruiting class. Junior college transfer Miles Kitselman was a late addition to the tight end room, signing in May.
Mason - Offensive Line
In the trenches on offense, the Tide features a group of excellent interior linemen that have proven themselves in the rigors of SEC play. Though Seth McLaughlin at center was a late addition to the unit last season, the redshirt freshman stepped up in a big way and will likely keep his job. Emil Ekiyor and Javion Cohen flank either side of the center as possibly the best guard duo in the nation, and will continue their streak of dominance this year.
Moving away from the interior offensive line is where the front five for Alabama begins to crumble a bit. While there are several seemingly viable options to take over at left and right tackle, none of them have any meaningful experience at Alabama.
Starting with the left side, Tyler Steen is the most experienced, but is known to have struggled against some of the conference's best in his time at Vanderbilt. J.C. Latham is a young, unproven talent, but has tremendous upside given his size and athletic ability.
As for the right tackle, Amari Kight finally looks ready to take over heading into his junior season, but will be pressed by Damieon George who saw time as a starter last year. Kendall Randolph, while undersized, is someone that has spent five seasons in the program and is likely more familiar with the system than anyone else, so he has to be considered.
In all, the offensive line comes with some very solid pieces but a few important question marks as well.
Kendell - Running Backs
The Crimson Tide hit big in the transfer portal when they landed former Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs. He is an electric playmaker coming out of the backfield in both the run and pass game. The Alabama faithful got a small glimpse of what Gibbs can do when he exploded for a 75-yard touchdown on A-Day. Although the Georgia native has a wide skill set, he’s not the bell cow that Brian Robinson was. He carried the ball 20 or more times just once during his time with the Yellow Jackets, which means the Tide will feature multiple backs in the run game.
Behind Gibbs is a trio of juniors, Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams are coming off season-ending knee injuries. McClellan averaged 4.7 yards per rush and was a reliable pass catcher for Young. He accounted for four touchdowns in five games last season. Williams saw action in 10 games, totaled 341 yards of offense and two scores before his injury. Former five-star Trey Sanders appeared in 13 games and finished second on the team in rushing yards with 312. All three of the backs are listed at 212 pounds or above.
Emmanuel Henderson and Jamarion Miller, the No. 2 and No. 6 ranked running backs respectively in the 2022 recruiting class per the 247Sports Composite round out the room.