Alabama Football: Lane Kiffin Is Already Influencing the Tide's Offense
Even though the University of Alabama’s first scrimmage of the spring will be closed as usual, and Lane Kiffin hasn’t done a single interview with the local writers since being hired in January, some of his influences as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach are beginning to be seen and felt in Tuscaloosa.
They can be broken down into three categories:
Kiffin helped the Crimson Tide close out the nation’s top recruiting class.
“He has a lot of relationships built up in recruiting from the various schools he has coached,” coach Nick Saban said. “It's very important to have the kind of offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach you can recruit to, someone young people want to play in that style of offense. That was an asset for us in helping get some of the offensive players we were able to attract.
“He does a really good job of presenting to the players how they are going to be used in the offense. They have a very clear picture of how they are going to be used. It was a real positive asset of him being involved in the short time he was involved recruiting this class.”
2. Identifying and developing Alabama’s next starting quarterback
This will obviously take a while to gauge, especially with Jacob Coker transferring from Florida State after graduating next month, but five others, including early enrollee David Cornwell are essentially getting one-on-one instruction this spring.
“It’s going to be a long time in us developing those players, not being so quick to criticize or quick to try to make a judgment or a decision on any one particular player, but to continue to try to have the patience to develop those guys into the kind of guys that can play winning football for us,” Saban said.
3. Running the offense
How different will it be under Kiffin?
“It's Saban, so it's going to be the same offense,” explained senior tight end Brian Vogler. “Obviously there's wrinkles. Every coach brings his own wrinkle to it but you're going to see the same stuff.
“Just a little bit more dynamic. (It's) hard to explain.”
Here, in the words of various Alabama players and Saban, is an attempt to do just that, with some of the changes they’ll be experiencing on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium and fans will eventually see from the Crimson Tide offense:
1. Different Terminology
This might not register too much with fans, but some of the Crimson Tide’s play-calling has changed
“He came in and made the offense more simple and player friendly,” junior wide receiver Amari Cooper said.
“The way plays are called, it’s easy to recognize what you have to do as a player.”
Translation: It’ll make things a little easier on the new quarterback, who replaces a three-year starter.
2. Faster Calls
Players credited communication issues as a primary reason for the offense not being better early last season.
“One of the things we’re trying to emphasize is get up to the ball, get down, get set,” junior center Ryan Kelly said. “Last year, look at it, we were running the clock down to five, four seconds every time. The faster that we can get to the line, get set, let the quarterback look at what he’s got to look at, the more time we can have and we’re not rushing to make calls last-minute.”
Translation: Alabama will likely snap the ball quicker and have fewer audibles.
3. Different Looks
Look for more window dressing this season.
“It's pretty much the same thing, just formations are different and everything,” senior quarterback Blake Sims said.
In other words, Alabama is looking to run a lot of the same plays, but how it sets them up and the presentation will be different.
“It’s pretty diverse, but if you learn it you’ll be better prepared to play in our offense,” senior Jalston Fowler said.
“We really have to learn what everybody’s doing. If you play X you have to know where the Z’s going because you might end up playing (there). He moves everyone around.”
Translation: The Crimson Tide are making a real effort to be less predictable.
4. More Derrick Henry
Before he became offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin was brought in as a consultant during the bowl practices and picked apart the Crimson Tide offense.
“He pays attention to everything, every little thing,” senior tight end Brian Vogler said.
He also paid attention to the big things, like running back Derrick Henry, who was subsequently promoted and had a breakthrough game.
“He's playing just like he left off,” Saban said about the sophomore. “He's got a lot of confidence now. He understands what to do, he plays fast, he's very physical. He's had an outstanding spring so far.”
Translation: T.J. Yeldon may be on the verge of becoming Alabama’s all-time leading rusher, but Henry should be a real force in 2014.
5. More Amari Cooper
Alabama’s wide receivers have been looking at film from Southern California’s offense to get used to Lane Kiffin’s play-calling and how he wants things executed.
“Yeah, we look at it for concepts we need to learn for our offense here and we know what those guys did for him at USC at the wide receiver position,” junior wide receiver Amari Cooper said.
It’s partially why so many are predicting a big season from Cooper, who is already closing in on numerous Crimson Tide career receiving records. In 2012, Marqise Lee had a whopping 118 receptions for 1,721 yards for the Trojans.
“He's a monster,” safety Nick Perry said about Cooper. “He's one of the best receivers I've seen and I've been here for five years. I've practiced against Julio (Jones), practiced against (Marquis) Maze. Coop is just a different breed.”
Translation: Nick Saban has already said about Cooper, “Obviously he's a guy that we want to get the ball to as many times as we can.” If he stays healthy, Cooper could potentially shatter numerous Alabama single-season records as well.
Coming off a torn ACL, Jalston Fowler, nicknamed “Nudie,” primarily played fullback and running back last season, when he had 20 carries for 88 yards and five red-zone touchdown receptions.
This season he’ll be more of a jack-of-all-trades, because Fowler will also play a lot of H-back—which, in the Crimson Tide’s scheme, means being a receiving tight end like Brad Smelley was in 2011.
“My role will change a lot because I have to learn what the receivers are doing, the H receiver, I have to learn what he’s doing, so it’s changing quite a bit,” Fowler said.
Translation: Fowler will be nearly an every-down player.
7. Bigger Emphasis on the Tight Ends
Last season Alabama had its worst receiving production out of its tight ends since Nick Saban arrived in 2007, with just 34 catches for 385 yards—and that includes running back/fullback/H-back Jalston Fowler’s numbers.
As a true freshman, O.J. Howard played in 13 games, with five starts, but made just 14 receptions for 269 yards and two touchdowns.
“He looks great,” senior tight end Brian Vogler said. “Just where he left off from last season. He's a fast guy, picks up stuff really well, so learning this new offense is coming really well to him.”
Translation: Don’t be surprised if Howard, Vogler and Fowler all catch more passes this season.
8. More Explosive Plays
Nick Saban defines an explosive play as a run of 13 yards or more, or a pass of 17 yards or more. Alabama’s goal is nine per game, which it only did six times last season while having a 111-52 advantage over opponents.
“Lane will do a really good job of getting the ball in the playmakers' hands,” the coach said.
Led by junior running back T.J. Yeldon’s 28, seven of the Crimson Tide’s top eight players in explosive plays return for 2014. The others are Kenyan Drake, Amari Cooper, Derrick Henry, DeAndrew White, O.J. Howard and Christion Jones.
“I really look forward to what he’s going to bring to the offense,” true freshman quarterback David Cornwell said before summarizing it in one word: “Explosive.”