Alabama Football: How Nick Saban Will Use 5-Star TE O.J. Howard in 2013

Ian BergCorrespondent IMarch 13, 2013

Photo via 247Sports
Photo via 247Sports

Alabama is heading into the 2013 season looking to add new dynamics to the methodical offensive system that has rewarded Nick Saban’s program with three national titles in the past four years.

The passing game has taken off for the Tide offense, and this season it should expand even further with the addition of 5-star O.J. Howard (per 247Sports) to the spring roster.

Prior to 2012, Nick Saban had to search for a new offensive coordinator after Jim McElwain departed for the head coaching job with Colorado State. In his place, Saban brought in then-Washington offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to run the Tide offense and add new looks to the offensive scheme.

Over the past two years, the Tide offense has added a lot of new looks to the offense, including last year’s expansion of the no-huddle offense. That is a trend that will continue under Nussmeier.

One position group that was previously ignored in the Tide offense was the tight end. Under Nussmeier, the tight end role will expand and Howard will be a major part of the offensive plan moving forward.

Let’s take a look at two plays from Nussmeier’s past offenses to get an idea of how the tight end will be utilized.

This is a look at the Alabama offense last year in its game against Mississippi State. Tight end Michael Williams finished the game with five catches for 38 yards and one touchdown.

In this shot, the Alabama offense is lined up in a shotgun formation with a trips formation set to the tight side of the field. 

On the left side of the line, Williams (marked in black) is lined up tight to the tackle, but he is not on the line. He could sit in as a blocker or fade out into a route during the play's progression.

In this second clip, you see the open space to the left of the field that is pulled open by the tight trips formation on the right side. The defense crashed to cover all three receivers and left an outside secondary player to cover Williams one-on-one.

The defender couldn’t cover space fast enough to stop the touchdown and Williams was wide open after the call opened up the middle seam for a touchdown.

This play is a nice fit for Howard's skill set, as it is a designed throw to the tight end.

Williams was running an option route that relies on reading the safeties to decide whether he should run deep or cut the route short in front of the defenders. 

While this play is being used in the red zone during this scenario, the formation and option route will produce all over the field with Howard at tight end. 

This second set of looks is from Nussmeier’s offense at Washington.

The Huskies are lined up in a traditional I-formation inside the red zone. It is a two-tight-end formation.

In the second clip, you see then-freshman Austin Seferian-Jenkins peel off of a block on a delay route and head for the seam in the defense.

In the third and final shot, you see Seferian-Jenkins making the touchdown grab behind the defense. This was another option route that was read properly by Seferian-Jenkins.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins and O.J. Howard are similar in size and in the style of play the produce. Both are rangy and very athletic, making plays like receivers and pushing through defenders like a traditional tight end. 

Howard will slip behind defenses often in this formation. 

This play is fueled by the play action and it is a delay route by the tight end allowing for the player to sneak into the secondary.

These are just two examples of different formation sets that that will be utilized by the Nussmeier offense this fall to help Howard become a major playmaker for the offense.

Nussmeier has had success with freshman tight ends in the past—just look at Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ 41 catches and 538 yards in 2011—and will expect to have the same type of success this year with Howard in the fold.

There is a full spring and summer to get Howard integrated into the Crimson Tide process and learn the offense.

Expect big things from Howard this fall. 


Note: All images pulled from YouTube videos uploaded by users qbsacker5394 and the SEC Digital Network