This spring marks the beginning of a new era of sorts for the Alabama Crimson Tide. No, they did not lose their Hall of Fame coach, a legend of a man with 7 total national championships, 6 of which have come since 2009. And no, there are not a ton of changes on the defensive side of the ball. What does change for Alabama is on the offensive side of the ball, where significant departures should muddy the waters for the team as we enter 2021.
What is clear for the Crimson Tide? The team is more vulnerable than they have been, at least in recent memory. That’s what happens when a team loses 4 starters on the offensive line, a starting quarterback, a Heisman winning wide receiver, another first round receiver, and their leading rusher.
This is not to say that Alabama is hopeless, or that the cupboard is bare on the offensive side of the ball. This is Alabama we are talking about, who under Saban has consistently brought in top classes. In fact, the worst class that Alabama has on campus right now is their 2018 class, which finished 5th in the country. Their 2020 and 2021 classes were both tops in the country, so it makes sense that players from those two classes stood out on Saturday.
DOES BAMA HAVE THEIR NEXT TOP QB?
Long known for conservative offenses and unimpressive quarterback play, Nick Saban’s Alabama has undergone a bit of a facelift over the past few seasons. Tua Tagovailoa was a top-five NFL draft selection, with Mac Jones on pace to be a high first round pick as well. And with reports coming out of spring camp this year, Bryce Young might make it three in a row.
Young was rated higher than either of his predecessors as a recruit. He has top-notch physical gifts, including a great arm and high-end mobility. Fans did not see much of Young in 2020, so this spring is the first real glimpse of the future for Alabama. And boy, did he deliver, earning game MVP honors.
Bryce Young can do some freaky stuff in the pocket 👀 pic.twitter.com/MVHzPE51pT— Max Olson (@max_olson) April 17, 2021
While not a complete performance by any stretch, Young showed why he’s been so hyped. For the most part, he looked composed, confident, and capable. The game did not seem too fast for him. He worked the intermediate areas of the field with ease. He made some ‘big boy’ throws — those to the opposite hash and downfield in tough coverage. Young did virtually everything you could ask for from a young quarterback.
There will be some growing pains — Young was strip-sacked for a touchdown and threw an ugly dump off that should have been six the other way — but early results should be encouraging for Bama fans and C2C managers.
WHAT IS THE RUNNING BACK ROTATION?
We won’t know for certain what the snap share might look like for 2021 until the season starts. Presumptive starter Brian Robinson Jr missed the game with an undisclosed injury, so Roydell Williams rolled with the “1’s.” It is not clear whether this means Williams is second on the depth chart, or it was a like-for-like replacement. Regardless, Williams was solid but unspectacular, finishing the day with 12 carries for 45 yards.
Jase McClellan was likely the big winner at the position on Saturday. While his line was similar to Williams, he looked more explosive with the ball in his hands. I’m trying not to read too much into his spot with the second team, although the situation should be monitored closely.
The big storyline for the running backs should be their involvement in the passing game. Williams went 4-65 and McClellan went 4-75. We won’t know until September whether that is indicative of their future usage or a spring game blip. In any case, it was very encouraging to see that these guys are all capable of working in the pass game, and that the coaching staff wants to use them in that manner.
IS THERE A REPLACEMENT IN HOUSE FOR THE HEISMAN WINNER?
This one is tougher to answer. The most experienced receiver on the team, John Metchie, missed the spring game with an injury he suffered during the 2020 season. He’s expected to be fine by fall, but his absence left openings at every single starting receiver spot this spring. We saw a few potential contributors flash on Saturday.
If the lineups are any indication, the early contenders for Alabama are a combination of Traeshon Holden, Javon Baker, and Slade Bolden. Baker received some hype last offseason, but was quiet on the day. Meanwhile, Holden (9 catches, 89 yards) and Bolden (5 catches, 56 yards) drew consistent targets from Young. Holden could be worth a look late in C2C drafts this year if he sticks with the first team receiving group. Be wary though, Holden did not look particularly dynamic with the ball in his hands, so upside is likely limited.
Beyond the first team, the story of the day was true freshman Agiye Hall, the 4-star wideout (No. 5 in 247 composite). Hall made his presence known throughout the game with several highlight catches. Much like he did in high school, he out-muscled DBs at the catch point and along the sidelines. He also looked to be the most surehanded of the Bama wideouts. If this game was any indication, it’s going to be difficult for Saban to keep Hall off the field for long.
Alabama has some talented, promising freshman receivers. Agiye Hall is one of them. Highly-ranked prospect from Florida who has flashed at times this spring with plays like this. pic.twitter.com/jbRVbmWInD— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) April 17, 2021
As for the other 3 highly ranked receivers in the 2021 Alabama recruiting class, none saw the field. Ja’Corey Brooks and Christian Leary were amongst the roughly twenty players that sat out, much to the disappointment of our crew calling the game. JoJo Earle is not on campus yet. Did Hall get an early leg up on his classmates as a result? It’s too soon to say, but Hall made quite a first impression.
RISE OF THE TIGHT END
Alabama has developed several tight ends in recent memory, including Irv Smith Jr. and O.J. Howard. They’ve not had much production at the position since the former left, however. It appears that new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien may look to change that. Several tight ends saw significant work in the passing game on Saturday.
No one should be surprised that Jahleel Billingsley popped up multiple times each drive. The 3rd year tight end has proven to be a versatile chess piece for Saban, lining up in-line, split out as a wide receiver, in the backfield, and has even returned punts. He only caught three passes on the day but was all over the field. So much so that we spent an entire drive trying to find where Billingsley was lining up. He might absorb some of the available receiver snaps for the Crimson Tide.
In other news, Cameron Latu had himself a decent day. Latu was initially recruited as a DE in the 2018 class but has since switched to TE. The 6’5, 250 Junior looked to be a fluid athlete with decent hands. His speed in the open field on his touchdown was also impressive for a player his size. I would not advise rostering him in a C2C league unless it’s extremely deep with 60+ man rosters. With the attrition at receiver and activity of both Billingsley and Latu, the Bama staff hinted they may feature the tight end more in 2021.