Alabama Football Recruiting: Why Josh McNeil May Be the Biggest Commit so Far

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Alabama Football Recruiting: Why Josh McNeil May Be the Biggest Commit so Far
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Leave it to Alabama head coach Nick Saban to sign recruits at this breakneck pace and still find time to play a round of golf.

In today's college football world, few things are more difficult to follow accurately and are more confusing than recruiting. Players switch back and forth (i.e. T.J. Yeldon, Cyrus Kouandjio and Reuben Foster), recruits visit a dozen or more schools at times and the Twitter tease some players like to put on just makes things so much more complicated.

With those things now going on every day, the commitment does not mean as much (again, see Reuben Foster). Recruits are going to the school dance as a stag: Just because they dance with the same girl for several songs in a row means nothing; they're still shopping around.

Commitments did not lose one thing, however: excitement.

The excitement is definitely there with the recent commitment of tight end Josh McNeil to the Crimson Tide, joining O.J. Howard in a class that would definitely rank No. 1 when it comes to tight ends, and maybe as a whole. If you're not excited, well, here's why you should be.

 

It Helps Alabama Be...Well...Alabama

Alabama's new offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, has been compared to his predecessor Jim McElwain, a lot. The starting quarterback in both systems, AJ McCarron, says the two offenses are almost exactly the same and the people are pretty similar, too.

With that similarity in the offensive stylings comes the importance of the tight end position. The tight end and the H-back both are responsible for being an effective run blocker on the edge to let the running back choose his gap by where the linebackers are, have sure hands as a dump-off option and be able to lay a good hit on a would-be tackler. They also have to be intelligent enough to move often before the snap and remain aware of how the assignment changes with that movement.

Highlights of Josh McNeil, showing the scouts his receiving ability out of the 3-point stance.

In the run game, if a tight end gets beat by an incoming defensive end or outside linebacker, any hope of taking the run to the outside is taken away, and you can guarantee any and every SEC linebacker will notice that. With the running back forced to the inside, the linebackers now have free reign to shoot the gap in the middle and stop the play for no gain or even a loss.

In the Alabama air attack, when a play breaks down, the QB will almost always look to the tight end. Sometimes the tight end is the No. 1 option to the point where McCarron will know he's throwing to the tight end before the ball is snapped. The tight end is especially important in the first possession or two for the Crimson Tide, as the aerial attack takes on more of a nickel-and-dime approach in the beginning of games.

Finally, in recent years, the tight end has represented the element of confusion in Alabama's offense. Opposing linebackers read what they see immediately as the Tide are breaking the offensive huddle. Then everything changes when both tight ends move to the other end of the formation. The rushing scheme has to be readjusted, plus the coverage scheme if the defense is in man coverage. Oh, and you have maybe three seconds to do it. That's if you're lucky.

Without tight ends that are able to do all three of these things, and do them better than almost anyone else in the country, Alabama's offense would be incredibly bland, vulnerable and predictable. Those three adjectives don't create wins.

 

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Tuscaloosa native Brad Smelley had quite a career for the Crimson Tide. It's hard to believe the success Alabama had in his tenure would not have been better had there been two of him.

Alabama Now Has a Two-Headed Monster

The Tide have been known for being able to attack defenses with two different running backs that have different specialties but remain all-purpose backs that can hurt your defense in every way imaginable.

Now, try to fathom the Tide having that at two positions. Defensive coordinators nationwide are moving into their bomb shelters. As they should.

Tight ends like Howard and McNeil are matchup nightmares in every sense of the word. Admittedly, they are probably too slow to beat the usual cornerback in man coverage. But at the same time, if they get the ball, those small corners have a snowball's chance at bringing those big guys down.

The guys that do have a chance at tackling them, the linebackers, simply aren't fast enough to keep up with them. Frankly, Howard and McNeil are both freaks of nature. Men weren't meant to be this big and this fast.

Mind you, this is the SEC. Surely there is at least one linebacker on every team that can handle these guys with both speed and size (think along the lines of Courtney Upshaw). Having to deal with two of them, though? That's just not fair.

That's fitting, though. A lot of things about the Howard-McNeil joining forces isn't fair. Unless, of course, you're an Alabama fan.

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