Offense Overview: For once, some rare continuity for Alabama’s offense, as Steve Sarkisian returns to coordinate the offense after a mostly successful first full year in the seat. With Tua Tagovailoa gone, a veteran offensive line returning and perhaps the deepest, most talented stable of running backs any NCAA team has fielded since the institution of the 85 scholarship limit, it would seem the 2020 Crimson Tide might be a bit more physical and direct in the running game. But a veteran wide receiver corps and depth at the quarterback position give Sarkisian a host of options at his disposal.
Returning Offensive Starters: 7 (SE, TE, RT, RG, LG, LT, RB)
Returning Defensive Starters: 5 (DT/E, NG, WLB, MLB, RCB)
Returning Specialists: 2 (PK, P)
Projected Overall Record: 10-0
Projected SEC Record: 8-0
Projected SEC West Record: 6-0
Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)
Quarterbacks: Vg Defensive Line: Vg
Running Backs: Ex Linebackers: Vg
Wide Receivers: Vg Defensive Backs: Ex
Offensive Line: Ex Special Teams: Av
Tua is in Miami now, so the question becomes whether Alabama leaves the offense in the hands of his 2019 backup, Mac Jones, or goes with the top QB prospect in the 2019-2020 recruiting cycle, Bryce Young. Young had to go through Covid-19 protocol earlier in camp, which combined with the cancellation of spring practice, only put another frustrating roadblock in his path. Most who have seen both quarterbacks at this point report no doubt that Young has a higher ceiling. There is some legitimate debate whether he could be another Tua Tagovailoa (or even more, depending on his durability).
Right now, though, Jones looks like the odds-on favorite to start the first game. His performances down the 2019 stretch in relief of the injured Tagovailoa showed he is more than capable of moving the team, with a skill set that recalled that of former Alabama great A.J. McCarron. So far, he hasn’t done anything to lose the job.
Expect to see some kind of two-man rotation early on, common in the years in which Nick Saban has been forced to break in new quarterbacks. Paul Tyson has settled in as the clear No. 3 at this point, but he isn’t likely to threaten to two players ahead of him. However, with Covid-19 protocol throwing so much uncertainty into the mix in 2020, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that teams will need three (or even more) quarterbacks to finish the season if they suddenly find themselves dealing with an outbreak.
To that end, Tyson would certainly be the “game manager” type of quarterback if he was to play. Walk-on Braxton Barker, son of Jay Barker, and Mississippi State transfer Logan Burnett are probably next up, but for things to go beyond Tyson there would have to be an outbreak of, well, “Outbreak” proportions, complete with Dustin Hoffman in an OSHA suit patrolling the sidelines. For that matter, wide receiver Slade Bolden would be a more likely choice; he has run the offense some this fall already.
As we said in the offensive overview, there likely has never been a time, since the inception of the 85 scholarship limit, when any Division-IA program had a deeper and more talented group of running backs.
Alabama has seven on scholarship, but will primarily go with the trio of Najee Harris, Brian Robinson Jr. and Trey Sanders. Harris finished strong in 2019 and somewhat surprisingly came back for his 2020 season, and from reports this fall has only continued to get better in fall camp. Harris certainly has the potential to be another Derrick Henry for Alabama but he was not given the opportunity to show his full complement of abilities while the offense was so focused on Tua Tagovailoa’s skills at quarterback.
That might change in 2020, especially until the quarterback battle gets decided. Brian Robinson Jr. has reportedly had a nice fall camp, and he needed to given the competition coming up from behind. His 2019 season was pedestrian at best. Trey Sanders was set to be one of the team’s primary backs in 2019 – possibly ahead of Robinson – until he suffered a leg injury and redshirted. Now he’ll get another opportunity to make an impact as a fresh changeup off the bench.
Keilan Robinson, last year’s No. 3 back and a different kind of runner than Harris and Robinson, is reported to be skipping the season voluntarily due to Covid-19. Robinson’s absence impacts not just the running back depth chart, but also the kickoff return unit. If Robinson does choose to play, he’ll already be challenged to hold off Sanders, not to mention true freshmen Roydell Williams, Kyle Edwards and Jase McClellan.
It’s difficult to put into words just how overloaded Alabama is at this position, but it’s a nice change of pace from some years in which Alabama had only one or two players capable of being every-down backs. All but arguably Keilan Robinson would fit into that category in 2020.
There is somewhat of a concern here at least in regards to experience, but not in raw talent. DeVonta Smith opted to return for his senior season, and while Jaylen Waddle wasn’t a starter in the technical sense the last two seasons, he played enough to basically be one. Smith and Waddle will lead a group of young pups trying to make a name for themselves.
Sophomores John Metchie and Slade Bolden are the most likely candidates to start at the vacant flanker position along with fellow sophomore Xavier Williams. None of the three have played all that much, although Metchie did get some work with the 1s last year in relief on injured players and Bolden had a special package developed around his unique skill set.
We’ll see more of that package in 2020, but the real question is can Bolden, Metchie or Williams step into a regular role and help mitigate the losses of Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. If not, one of three true freshmen – Javon Baker, Thaiu Jones-Bell and Traeshon Holden – will get an opportunity to do so. Baker and Holden both look like they’ll grow into larger-bodied, physical receivers in time, although neither is quite ready to fill that role like Tyrell Shavers could have, before he opted to transfer. Jones-Bell is am smaller, future slot-type receiver.
Despite not having great height or size, Alabama was deadly the last few years with Ruggs, Jeudy, Smith and Waddle proving to be both too quick and too precise in their routes for most college defensive backs, and the new receivers have much of that same look about them. The real question is one of raw depth, especially if either Smith or Waddle were sidelined for any length of time. Alabama’s next option would likely be Keilan Robinson, but he may not be available.
Tight end Jahleel Billingsley came to campus last year more the size of a larger receiver than a tight end, and he is still capable of filling that kind of role. As for walk-ons, senior Drew Kobayashi, a Washington State transfer, got some attention in the preseason last year but never played. Grant Krieger and Shatarius Williams both have good height and Bret Bolin is a transfer from Indiana, but none have made any discernible noise yet.
At tight end, North Carolina transfer Carl Tucker is likely the new Y, with Miller Forristall starting at the H position, where he is infinitely better-suited. Alabama had to repurpose an offensive lineman, Kendall Randolph, as a blocking tight end last year, but he will be back to the offensive line in 2020 to shore up some depth questions at guard.
Major Tennison certainly looks the part of a tight end, but needs to improve upon his 2019 campaign. He looks to be Tucker’s primary backup at Y. Billingsley will back up Forristall at H, while Cameron Latu will probably get a few reps at both positions while he continues to learn the position after swapping over from defensive end a year ago.
Michael Parker has good height for the position and decent hands, but still needs some added size. A pair of walk-ons are potentially intriguing; Melvin Billingsley, no relation to Jahleel, got a few snaps last year and has a blocker’s build. Richard Hunt is listed at 6’7”, making him the tallest tight end on the roster, but he has yet to play.
Alabama has four starters returning and a lot of veteran competition for the fifth slot (center), but overall this is not the Tide’s deepest OL group. Former center Landon Dickerson and Deonte Brown return to start at the guard positions, while guard Evan Neal moves to the vacant right tackle position and Alex Leatherwood returns at left tackle.
The shifting of Neal and Dickerson leaves center to a battle between Chris Owens, Emil Ekiyor Jr. and Darrian Dalcourt. Owens began 2019 as the starting center before losing the job after a couple of wobbly performances. He’ll have to hold off Dalcourt, primarily, but Dickerson could slide back to center with Ekiyor stepping in at right guard.
The good news for Alabama is all three players have played when the chips were down and know what to expect. Tommy Brown will be the third tackle, while Amari Kight and Pierce Quick will compete for the other tackle slot. Tanner Bowles will probably take the other reserve guard slot, but the coaches moved Kendall Randolph back from tight end to bolster the depth and create more competition. True freshmen Javion Cohen, Damien George Jr. and Seth McLaughlin round out the list of players on scholarship, but they’re considered long-term projects more than immediate contributors.
While these numbers should give Alabama what it needs to get through the season, center will be a question mark right up to the point someone makes a definitive move to claim it, an depth could be an issue if Covid-19 issues persist.
READ MORE: Alabama 2020 Defense Overview