Alabama’s offense benefited from having two dynamic options at tight end in 2011—with the production between Michael Williams and Brad Smelley helping to mask the lack of production from the wide receiver unit.
Williams will be back to reprise his role as a bruising blocker up front, that is versatile enough to be a viable threat in the passing game.
But Nick Saban and new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will have to find a replacement to fill the shoes of the dependable Smelley at H-Back.
The likely candidates to fill the vacancy are a pair of redshirt sophomores in Harrison Jones (brother of Crimson Tide OL Barrett Jones) and Brian Vogler, or redshirt freshman Malcolm Faciane.
Both sophomores played sparingly as reserves last season—with Jones recording one reception for five yards against Vanderbilt and Vogler also netting one catch for six yards. Faciane will make his debut this fall.
Also, incoming freshman Kurt Freitag could be another candidate to throw his name in the mix when he arrives in the summer.
While most Crimson Tide supporters are worrying about holes at other high-profile positions like wide receiver and linebacker, H-back is a glue position that keeps Alabama’s ball-control offense humming.
The unknown factor about the H-back position is that it remains to be seen if it will be used the same way in Nussmeier’s system.
However, given the personnel on hand—and Nussmeier’s similarities to departed offensive coordinator Jim McElwain—wholesale changes are not expected.
Smelley was the team’s second leading receiver in 2011, with 34 catches for 356 yards and a team-leading four receiving touchdowns.
Seven of his receptions came in the BCS National Championship game victory over LSU—and his effectiveness played a huge part in allowing the Tide’s offense to establish a rhythm while consistently moving the ball on the Tigers.
In addition, 21 of his 27 regular season receptions resulted in chain-moving first downs for the offense.
While no one appears to have the inside track on this position, the spring should see a heated competition for reps among the trio of available options.
The player that establishes himself as a reliable and dependable target for quarterback A.J. McCarron, will likely end up claiming the role.
Establishing another safety net receiver to go along with Williams will be one of the key position battles to watch as spring practice gets underway.