Alabama Football: 8 Players Who Will Benefit Most from Lane Kiffin's Offense
The best part about Saban hiring Kiffin is Alabama can stay true to its basic offensive philosophy while bringing up-tempo elements. Kiffin is known for a pro-style attack but has added selective hurry-up pieces.
A couple recent high-profile transfers have left some wondering about the personnel recruited prior to Kiffin running the former USC coach’s offense.
Both might have taken place regardless.
For his part, Kamara denied behavioral issues resulted in his departure. Perhaps that’s the truth. He would, after all, be sitting behind tailbacks T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry next year.
Quarterback Luke Del Rio also caught attention with his decision to transfer.
Del Rio, the son of Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, walked on at Alabama and was expected to compete for the starting position during the spring. However, he decided to transfer to Oregon State instead.
Del Rio’s move, like Kamara’s, likely had far more to do with prior circumstance than a desire to avoid Kiffin’s offense.
This list examines overall offensive players likely to become stars under Kiffin in 2014.
8. G Arie Kouandjio
There were times in 2013 when Arie Kouandjio struggled with penalties or consistency.
Another year of experience—and a little less time to jump prematurely—should work nicely for him.
Kiffin seems likely to add greater balance to the Crimson Tide attack, which should actually work to the line’s benefit.
With defenses having less ability to key in on the run on early downs, offensive linemen like Kouandjio can get after defensive lines a little easier.
7. T Grant Hill
Looking for the next superstar offensive lineman at Alabama?
Take a look at Grant Hill, who did enough in practice to earn some meaningful playing time as a true freshman.
Now Hill has a reasonable chance to fill Cyrus Kouandjio’s vacant left-tackle spot.
Hill still doesn’t have the build of an SEC offensive lineman, but he has shown the raw talent and speed. Add the tempo Kiffin plans to implement and Hill could have great success in 2014.
6. RB Derrick Henry
After watching from the sideline for most of the season, an injury to Kenyan Drake allowed Derrick Henry to break out on a national stage during the Sugar Bowl.
The beastly Henry provided one of the few highlights for Alabama in its loss to Oklahoma, shredding the Sooners defense.
Henry finished with 100 yards and a touchdown on eight attempts. He also scored on a 61-yard reception.
There’s no rebottling what Henry showed in the Sugar Bowl defeat. Everyone knows what he’s capable of doing if given enough carries.
Now it’s up to Kiffin to find enough footballs for his skilled weapons, including Henry.
5. C Ryan Kelly
Replacing former Alabama center Barrett Jones would have been difficult enough under normal circumstances.
Ryan Kelly had to try to do so while battling through a series of knee injuries.
Still, when Kelly was able to play—he missed three games, including the Auburn loss in 2013—he showed off a skill set that could make him a standout in the SEC.
Learning a new offense won’t make it an easy transition.
Fortunately for Kelly, many of the same elements customary in a Saban offense will remain constant.
The occasional faster tempo could mean an increased role for the center, as seen in several of the quicker offenses across the country.
4. TE O.J. Howard
Though Howard’s potential surfaced in an obvious way this season, he hasn’t truly broken out yet.
Just give it a season.
The 6-foot-6, 237-pound beast of a target should provide a security blanket for whoever wins the starting quarterback job.
Don’t think Howard can’t be more, though.
As a true freshman, Howard averaged 19.2 yards per reception. That he only caught 14 passes points supports the idea that Alabama underutilized him in 2013.
Kiffin won’t likely make the same mistake.
Look for Alabama to target Howard early and often and terrorize the linebacker corps and safeties of opponents.
3. RB T.J. Yeldon
Kiffin will be unafraid to throw the ball but also has a proven track record of playing to teams’ strengths.
It won’t take long to realize what a dynamic presence he has in Yeldon, a proven star in the Alabama offense.
In two seasons, Yeldon has rushed for 2,343 yards and 26 touchdowns. Furthermore, every time the rising junior received 18 carries, he has cashed them in for 100 yards or more.
Yeldon could benefit tremendously from an up-tempo element. With more carries and less time between plays, Alabama’s powerful linemen can wear down opponents.
Yeldon’s game-changing speed can go to work from there.
Considering the early success in Yeldon’s career, this could be his final season in Tuscaloosa. It could also be his best.
2. WR Amari Cooper
Ask USC receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods about life under Kiffin. The duo enjoyed tremendous success with the Trojans.
Lee and Woods combined for 2,567 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns on 194 catches in 2012. They accounted for 2,435 yards and 26 TDs in 2011.
Amari Cooper certainly ranks high among the most talented receivers returning to the SEC.
Yet consistency has been an issue.
Cooper can dominate portions of a game but often disappears for long periods of time. His erratic play—combined with an injury that slowed him early in the season—showed in his 2013 stats, none of which measured up to his numbers the previous year.
Kiffin has a history of getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers.
Alabama will likely remain run-first, but players like Cooper will get significantly more opportunities to showcase game-breaking ability.
Look for Cooper to get the ball not only in the passing game but also in the run game as well.
1. QB Jacob Coker
How can Kiffin’s No. 1 breakout player be someone currently enrolled at another school?
The worst-kept secret in college football might be Jacob Coker transferring to Alabama from Florida State, where he backs up Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.
Al.com’s Michael Casagrande reported that rumors of Coker’s potential transfer have become so rampant that he had to answer questions about it before the BCS National Championship Game.
Coker backed up AJ McCarron at St. Paul’s in Mobile, Ala., when Coker was a sophomore and McCarron a senior.
Now Alabama is looking for a replacement for McCarron, and Coker is looking for a place where he can get on the field.
Coker is scheduled to graduate in May, which would leave him two years of eligibility to immediately play wherever he wants.
However, until Coker graduates, neither he nor Alabama can say anything about what looks like an inevitable merger.
Kiffin told al.com, per Casagrande, “there’s no telling” who might emerge as the starter from spring.
The legend of Coker is already spreading, as CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman wrote.
Kiffin can help develop Coker into an Alabama star as long as widespread speculation becomes fact.