With National Signing Day officially in the books – even though December’s Early Signing Day has eclipsed NSD as the real signing day of note – Kalen DeBoer and his staff can finally begin the work of actually getting its roster into fighting shape for the upcoming 2024 season.
Alabama’s 30-day transfer portal period, which kicked into being following Nick Saban’s retirement, will be ending soon, and we do not expect to see any further entries. Alabama was hit hard in the days immediately after Saban’s departure, but portal entries quickly dried up over the last two weeks, and Alabama was able to add three former Washington players: QB Austin Mack, WR Germie Bernard and C Parker Brailsford.
Still, because of the significant losses to the post-Saban portal – especially a total of eight solely from the ranks of the defensive backs, including three expected starters and four others that were expected to break camp in the two-deep – TideFans.com is bringing you an updated roster analysis. More importantly, this will be our first attempt to project a depth chart using Kalen DeBoer’s preferred offensive (Air Raid) and defensive (4-2-5 Swarm) systems.
For now, we will revert to listing only 11 starters on offense and defense. Under Saban, TideFans always listed a second starter at tight end, since about half of Alabama’s packages were built around the Ace alignment, as well as an extra defensive back, as Bama began spending less and less time in its base 3-4 over/under defensive scheme.
As for Wednesday’s signees, Alabama added three: the top wide receiver recruit in the country (Ryan Williams), the most impressive edge rusher we’ve seen on tape in years (Noah Carter) and an Auburn legacy linebacker who could play multiple roles in the new defensive scheme (Quinton Reese).
Here’s an updated look at Bama’s football personnel heading into spring practice. Names are color-coded as they are in our weekly in-season depth chart tracker (seniors in black, juniors in green, sophomores in blue, redshirt freshmen in cyan, true freshmen in red; JUCO transfers appear in purple if having only two years of eligibility remaining, or in yellow if having more than two), and walk-ons are notated by an asterisk (*). Returning starters are in bold type:
##-Austin Mack (transfer)
Analysis: This got interesting in a hurry when Alabama parted ways with signee Julian Sayin very quickly after DeBoer was hired. Reports vary as to whether the DeBoer staff made Sayin a major priority at all after arriving in Tuscaloosa. Sayin had been on campus and went through bowl practices with the team, and by all rights was showing well. But DeBoer’s first transfer portal addition was redshirt freshman quarterback Austin Mack from Washington, and Sayin departed almost immediately afterward. With all positions wide open after the new staff transition, Mack has just as much of a chance as Ty Simpson or Dylan Lonergan do to unseat incumbent starter Jalen Milroe, but it won’t be easy. Milroe’s leadership of the team through the coaching transition has been cited as a major steadying force for the program, so any change at this critical position is going to be met with an intense amount of scrutiny and pressure. The other question here is what Ty Simpson and Dylan Lonergan will choose to do if either Milroe retains the spot or if Mack jumps them on the depth chart. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Alabama to lose both to the post-spring transfer portal. Were that to happen, Alabama would almost certainly have to dip into the portal itself, even just for depth reasons. Walk-on Caleb Carruth would be just two snaps away from playing. Alabama also has another walk-on, WR Miguel Camboia, who originally came to campus as a quarterback before moving to wideout during late fall work, but it’s hard to imagine Alabama not keeping at least three QBs on scholarship. The biggest challenge this spring will be getting each of the four scholarshipped players enough work to properly evaluate them. The new offensive system demands precision, confident pre-snap decision-making skills and accuracy on short and intermediate throws. Milroe struggled with each category at times last year, but his ability to create and his deep passing are among the best of any quarterback in the country. This will be the most interesting quarterback battle in Tuscaloosa in years.
28-Michael Lorino III*
Analysis: In contrast to the quarterback position, running back should go straight down the line. The fact Alabama was able to hold onto sophomore Justice Haynes was a minor coup in itself. The only question here is how much rotating DeBoer plans to do with his running backs. Under Nick Saban, Alabama almost always rotated two running backs and kept a third running back fresh for 2-3 carries per game. Under DeBoer, Dillon Johnson almost never came off the field last year for Washington. Johnson had 233 carries while backups Will Nixon and Tybo Rogers combined for just 77. We still expect Haynes or Jamarion Miller to start, with the other getting fairly equal work – and DeBoer uses two-back alignments enough that Bama could see both on the field at the same time – as well as the fact that Robert Gillespie was retained as running backs coach will likely cause some of the old depth chart decisions to carry forward. Richard Young gives Alabama another good option off the bench, while big Daniel Hill gives Bama another bulky hammer-type running back that it has been missing since Brian Robinson Jr. went off to the NFL. Fellow signee Kevin Riley is a likely redshirt, as he needs to get bigger. Both walk-ons, Michael Lorino and J.R. Gardner, got into the UT-Chattanooga game last year, although neither got a carry. Anything can happen during a changeover, obviously, but we’re expecting sort of a ho-hum progression from the Roydell Williams-Jase McClellan era to something new, without a lot of drama or fuss.
##-Germie Bernard (transfer)
32-Jay Loper Jr.*
Analysis: Here’s the first position group we have to break out and discuss in the context of the Air Raid offense. Not much different in alignment here from what Alabama has been running, there will be two outside receivers – now labeled “X-receiver (or XR)” and “Z-receiver (or ZR)” – and then a slot receiver position. What may change is the type of receivers playing each spot. DeBoer’s teams favored height on the outside, but Alabama’s most experienced receivers are all slots, or “big slots” – Kendrick Law, Kobe Prentice and Jalen Hale. In addition, Washington transfer Germie Bernard did most of his damage last year coming from the slot position, but one of the things that attracted him to Tuscaloosa was the prospect of a larger role. Thus, we anticipate either Law or Prentice will start in the slot, with the other taking whatever outside position Bernard doesn’t. The interesting stuff happens at the next level of the depth chart. Does Ryan Williams become an instant rotational player – or ever a starter? Does Emmanuel Henderson – Alabama’s tallest holdover at 6’2” – find an increased role? Do Jalen Halen and Jaren Hamilton continue to develop? What of Cole Adams, Alabama’s latest answer to Clemson’s Hunter Renfrow, who showed nice hands and ability to get separation in very limited work in 2023 following an early injury? Of the other signees, both Aeryn Hamilton and Amari Jefferson are expected to challenge for early playing time, while Rico Scott may need a year of weight room work. Concerning walk-ons, Alabama got two graduate students to return, Sam Willoughby and Zarian Courtney. Willoughby has gotten into games before, but Courtney – a two-sport standout in high school who came to Bama as a transfer out of Oklahoma Baptist – is intriguing from the standpoint that he is the tallest receiver on the roster at 6’3”, something that is in short (pun perhaps intended) supply on the current roster. Also, unlike running back, which pretty much was a one-man show under DeBoer at UW, the Husky receiver group saw nine wideouts logging catches, five of them into double-digits. There should be enough work to go around, and spring practice ought to be exciting if watching receivers jockey for position is your thing.
87-Danny Lewis Jr.
Analysis: Things took a big hit here when Amari Niblack chose to transfer, a curious decision given how DeBoer likes to use tight ends that can catch. Even though Alabama technically sheds a starting position (H-back) here in the changeover from the pro-style spread to the Air Raid, DeBoer is unique among Air Raid devotees in how he uses multiple tight ends. Even the use of a single tight end is uncommon in many Air Raid variants. C.J. Dippre returns as the starter, and Robbie Ouzts was essentially the starter at H, even though Niblack played quite a bit there. Danny Lewis Jr. is the next man up, and then you get down to some intriguing younger names. Ty Lockwood looks custom-built for this offense, while signee Caleb Odom is almost a plug-in replacement for Niblack. Jay Lindsey is more of a traditional tight end and will likely redshirt this year. All three of the walk-ons have good size, with Adam Thorsland opting to return as a graduate student and former Colorado State transfer Coby McNeal, who will be 27 years old when the season starts. Expect to see a lot of Dippre, Ouzts and Lewis, but the receiving skills of Lockwood and Odom may get one or both onto the field fairly early on.
##-Naquil Betrand (transfer)
##-Parker Brailsford (transfer)
Analysis: It’s not hard to see what the issue is here, and it’s both tackle positions. Alabama is exceptionally young at tackle, with sophomore Elijah Pritchett having by far the most experience there – but he has a postseason arrest to potentially clean up before the beginning of the season. Bama should be solid across the middle of the line, as DeBoer enticed Parker Brailsford to follow him from Washington. Brailsford is on the small side for an SEC center, but he played with great technique at Washington and his snapping skills were on-point the entire season, something Alabama had consistent issues with under Seth McLaughlin, who portaled out. The big question is whether Jaeden Roberts will stay inside, or whether he’ll move out to right tackle opposite Pritchett. DeBoer priortizes athletic linemen, and Roberts has a head start on the rest in that regard. If things go as expected, Pritchett will start at left tackle, with right tackle going to a battle of redshirt freshmen – holdovers Wilkin Formby, Olaus Alinen and Texas A&M transfer Naquil Betrand, with Formby probably having the early edge. Inside, it’s chalk unless Roberts or Booker move to tackle, at which point Formby and Alinen are back in the mix along with Roq Montgomery and the signees. Joe Ionata can play either guard or tackle, and Will Sanders may be in that boat as well, while Casey Poe has a ton of potential as a guard. It will be interesting to see whether backup center James Brockermeyer gets in the mix at guard if the staff start shuffling lineups. Whatever the eventual lineup is, Bama fans should expect quicker, slimmer linemen going forward under DeBoer. The offensive tackle situation is by far the most concerning offensive position of the spring – quarterback included – and may be the most concerning position of all.
##-L.T. Overton (transfer)
44-Damon Payne Jr.
Analysis: It’s likely DeBoer has never been on the field with an interior tackle group like this one. The depth is staggering. Tim Smith opted to come back for his Covid year, which gives Alabama five upperclassmen across two positions who have all either contributed heavily – or, in the case of Texas A&M transfer L.T. Overton, have impressive prep pedigrees. This is also the first position at which there is a tangible difference in what Alabama was doing before, and what Alabama will be doing going forward. DeBoer’s defensive scheme up front will still make use of odd fronts occasionally, but the days of Bama’s interior defenders being primarily two-gap space eaters is probably over. Expect to see more plays made from this group than in years past. As for who the switchover favors, Tim Smith, Oatis, Payne and Overton will likely all benefit. James Smith and Tim Keenan may need some extra time, as both are more typical of 3-4 nosetackles. Overton could also flex between tackle and end when Bama goes odd, as he is a bit light for a pure tackle. The young players are all intriguing, with Jordan Renaud probably the name to watch among them. Signees Isaia Faga and Jeremiah Beaman would both benefit from some weight room work, and the good news is that Bama doesn’t really need them this year. Having such a veteran group ought to help smooth the transition window a bit, as a major change in defensive fronts usually has a negative affect on W-L records inside the SEC.
Analysis: We’ve put a couple of players here who could also project inside – Jah-Marien Latham and Khurtiss Perry – and one of the players we have at tackle, L.T. Overton, could also project here. It depends on whether DeBoer and new defensive coordinator Kane Wommack will have different types of DE/Edge players for the situation. When Alabama needs pure pass rushers, the safe bet is that Quandarrius Robinson, who is returning for his Covid year, will start at one of those spots across from likely Keanu Koht. Latham and Perry are bigger bodies, but may not be big enough for tackle in this defense, especially Perry. Regardless, they’re better fits for this defense than the one they’re transitioning out of. In regard to overall talent, as good as the situation is at defensive tackle, this is better. Alabama has three redshirt freshmen (Keon Keeley, Yhonzae Pierre, Qua Russaw) who were all rated 5-star talents on at least one recruiting service each, and then there is the just-signed quartet of Jayshawn Ross, Justin Okoronkwo, Steve Mboumoua and Noah Carter. Where to begin with these guys? Keeley and Pierre are elite first-step pass rushers who can quickly get into the backfield, while Russaw looks custom-built to be an edge-setter in a four-man front against the run. From the signing class, Steve Mboumoua might eventually grow to become a defensive tackle, but Justin Okoronkwo and Jayshawn Ross look like this year’s Keeley and Pierre. The most interesting name on the board is Noah Carter, who the DeBoer staff convinced to switch his commitment from Washington to Alabama. Carter has the most impressive tape from an edge rusher we’ve seen in perhaps … ever. He also played wide receiver in high school and returned kicks, but it’s his absolutely-blazing speed off the edge that has people salivating. Again, the makeup of this group is dependent on how a coach wants to build his front. There are options galore. One thing we expect is to see less of OLBs dropping into coverage, and more aggressiveness off the corners of the defense.
Analysis: Depth took a bit of a hit from the transfer portal. It wasn’t much of a surprise to lose senior Kendrick Blackshire, whose path to playing time was blocked by younger players, but losing Ian Jackson and especially Shawn Murphy was a blow. Alabama is fine with two returning starters, Deontae Lawson and Jihaad Campbell, but the issue is depth – especially since Lawson has shown the propensity to get nicked up a lot. Justin Jefferson was an odd signing by Nick Saban, a smallish inside linebacker whose game was more about speed than punch. Jefferson played well in the spring, but when the defense became more complicated during fall work, he fell behind. A better fit for the new scheme, Jefferson is now looking like the primary backup at both spots and could also be in the running for playing time at a hybrid safety/linebacker position that is part of this defense. Jeremiah Alexander is technically still an outside linebacker, but he was being tried inside late last fall and Alabama needs the bodies here. Signees Cayden Jones and Sterling Dixon both have an excellent chance to play early, especially on special teams; fellow signee Quinton Reese is a better fit for this defense than he was Saban’s, but he still needs bulk. None of the returning walk-ons have played; sophomore Vito Perri is probably the furthest ahead. The inside linebackers in this defense will be expected to pursue and to fill gaps, especially with gap assignments being simplified up front. It should play to Campbell’s skill set, and Jefferson now has a chance to make an impact. But we’ll be holding our breath every time referees stop play for an injury timeout.
##-Domani Jackson (transfer)
Analysis: This is where the transfer portal really hit Alabama severely. Trey Amos was expected to be CB1 in this defense and had the potential to be a first-round draft pick, so his exit hurts big-time. Bama also lost Antonio Kite, who had been a consistent backup, and promising Dezz Ricks. What’s left isn’t bad, but it’s going to need some work. Domani Jackson was being seen as a Saban reclamation project, as his first two seasons at USC had produced disappointing results. Jahlil Hurley, a tall in-state cornerback prospect from a year ago, was being looked at by some observers as a candidate to portal out had the previous staff remained in place. Now he’s a presumed day-one starter. He has the height, but not the elite speed Alabama has been accustomed to at that spot. The silver lining here is definitely the three signees, Jaylen Mbakwe, Zavier Mincey and Zabien Brown. Mincey and Brown are considered elite prospects – and Mincey is a physical freak at 6’3”, 190 – but Mbakwe may be the best prospect of all. He has elite speed, instincts and maturity. It wouldn’t be a surprise for Alabama to end up with two true freshmen starting at cornerback very early in the season. This is one position where walk-ons will have to be in play, at least in the spring. Alijah May dressed for all home games last year and got into a couple, so expect to see him get some rotational work in scrimmages. As for style of play, Nick Saban was both one of the greatest coaches of cornerbacks ever, and also one of the most unique. There is going to be a transition period here regardess of who starts, and growing pains should be expected.
##-Dre Kirkpatrick, Jr.
Analysis: The single-biggest loss to the transfer portal was undoubtedly safety Caleb Downs, who went to Ohio State and created a gaping hole in the Bama secondary in the process. Downs was the best safety prospect Alabama has had since Minkah Fitzpatrick, and in terms of a pure high safety, may wind up being even better. Alabama lost five safeties total, including a second player who would likely have started had he returned, Kristian Story. Story portaled to Kentucky even before Saban’s retirement, and while he was still fairly rough around the edges, he was developing a reputation as a ballhawk. The loss of Earl Little was either significant or not, depending on which analyst was doing the talking, but one of the more underrated losses was Jake Pope, who was Bama’s seventh DB for most of 2023, to Georgia. On the flip side, Alabama is going to get an unexpected Covid year out of Malachi Moore, and if junior Devonta Smith can stay healthy for once, Bama will have an upgrade over Story. The third safety spot is the one in question, and a lot depends on where Moore winds up playing and what body type DeBoer wants at that position. There are two ways to conceive the third safety spot in the new defense – either as a Star-type safety analogous to what Saban used in the nickel version of the 3-4 over/under – or as a hybrid safety-linebacker spot. If it’s the latter, then some of the members of the current linebacker group – most notably Quinton Reese and Justin Jefferson – could wind up playing there, at least situationally. If it’s the former, then Moore will likely take that spot and Bama will be in the market for a new high safety to go with Smith. Brayson Hubbard finished the 2023 season furthest up the depth chart there, although Tony Mitchell was getting playing time late despite getting a late start to his season. The signee trio of Dre Kirkpatrick Jr., Rydarrius “Red” Morgan and Peyton Woodyard are all possibilities to play, as they all have very different body types and player profiles. Kirkpatrick is a Star/nickel, Morgan is a balanced safety and Woodyard is the old-school heavy hitter from a strong safety spot. As for walk-ons, Bama has at least a couple of guys who have flashed before; Caleb McDougle is back as a graduate student and has gotten into a game or two, while Prince Butler and Chase Davis in particular have good builds. The key to it all is keeping Moore and Smith healthy, because that’s been a challenge in the past.
86-James Burnip (P/HLD)
48-Kneeland Hibbett (SN)
31-Conor Talty (PK)
98-Upton Bellenfant* (PK/P)
99-Nick Serpa* (P)
97-Reid Schuback* (PK/P)
96-Reed Harradine* (PK)
Analysis: Having James Burnip back is a big asset to team in transition, as Burnip’s punting was top-shelf all of 2023, and he’s also the Crimson Tide’s holder for placement kicks. Snapper Kneeland Hibbett is probably the best in the conference at his job, so the snap-hold exchange ought to go off without a hitch. The question is which kicker will step up and take the job, and as a secondary concern, who will do the kicking off. Conor Talty is on scholarship, and as we’ve said in the past, kickers on scholarship tend to get consideration that kickers not on scholarship do not. We’ll see if that matters to the DeBoer staff. Upton Bellenfant had a solid 2023 spring before Talty’s arrival, and he can punt as well as kick. That kind of versatility likely locks him in as a member of the traveling squad. Nick Serpa, the backup punter, regularly put on a show during warm-ups last year, to the extent that it would be a mild surprise if he didn’t take over for Burnip in ’25. Reid Schuback and Reed Harradine appear to be behind the others, at least the last time we saw them all together. The book on Talty is that he has the accuracy for the job, but isn’t a long-distance kicker. But he’ll have another year of weight training under his belt going into ’24, too.
Follow Jess Nicholas on X at @TideFansJessN