The Alabama offense isn't destined for a complete overhaul under the direction of first-year coordinator Lane Kiffin, but a change in complexion could be approaching on the horizon.
The recipe for success during head coach Nick Saban's tenure regularly combines defensive dominance, a relentless rushing attack and efficient quarterback play that avoids risk.
That recipe is set to receive a new ingredient in 2015 when Southern California quarterback Blake Barnett comes to Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide's newest commit can sling the ball, but it's his abilities as a runner that provide an intriguing element to the country's top-ranked recruiting class.
That's exactly what the coaching staff had in mind when it extended an offer to the 6'4.5", 200-pound Santiago High School standout in February, less than three weeks after losing 5-star pledge Ricky Town to USC.
"Coach Kiffin and Coach Saban were very fond about the idea of their quarterback being able to run the ball several times in each game," Barnett said Sunday evening after an Elite 11 practice in Beaverton, Oregon. "It's something they were looking for and it made sense as a fit for me."
It made enough sense that he chose Alabama over Oregon, a program that has flourished with quarterbacks who can tuck the ball and take off. He committed to the Tide in June, shortly after ending a seven-month commitment to Notre Dame.
Barnett is rated third nationally among dual-threat talents in 247Sports' composite rankings. He averaged nearly eight yards per carry last fall, rushing for 695 yards and 13 touchdowns.
A large, physical frame helps him break tackles, but Barnett also flashes the ability to burst past defenders with tremendous speed for an athlete of his stature. Clocked at 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash, per Tyler James of the South Bend Tribune, he exhibits better wheels than those who've orchestrated Alabama's offense during recent title runs.
AJ McCarron, a two-time national champion and Heisman Trophy finalist, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.94 seconds at the NFL combine. His predecessor, Greg McElroy, finished the sprint in 4.84 seconds during his combine efforts after leading Alabama to an unbeaten 2009 season. The duo combined to rush for just five total touchdowns through the past five seasons.
With Barnett on board and a new mind piecing together the offensive game plan, expect Alabama's philosophy behind center to shift gears in the near future.
"I'm extremely excited about the chance to play for Coach Kiffin," Barnett said. "Obviously, he's had a lot of success offensively at other places and I think there's an opportunity to do some new things on that side of the ball at Alabama."
So how does Barnett fit into the mix?
"They're going to do some things to get me on the move and out of the pocket," he said. "There will be chances to make plays with my feet every game."
It recently became apparent that Saban and Kiffin were open to reimagining the prototypical Alabama quarterback during this recruiting cycle. The Tide extended an offer to fellow California prospect Travis Waller in May and hosted him on campus before receiving a commitment from Barnett.
Waller rushed for 1,293 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013, flashing serious speed at Servite High School in Anaheim.
"They wanted to bring in a guy who can be a rushing threat at quarterback," Barnett said.
McCarron and McElroy may have been mobile enough to avoid SEC defenders in the backfield, but no one would ever confuse either player as a "rushing threat."
That label fits Barnett, who is dangerous in the open field and possesses underrated quickness once he reaches the second level. Whether the damage is done on designed runs or improvisational scrambles, his talents open the playbook to new possibilities at Alabama.
Kiffin's track record shows more reliance on the passing game than what fans are accustomed to in Tuscaloosa. Alabama is unlikely to abandon its run-first philosophy anytime soon, but quarterbacks may be allowed more opportunities to make plays and take risks moving forward.
A multi-dimensional playmaker like Barnett can create exciting chances for his team and prolong plays even if things aren't clicking through the air.
"When a play breaks down and the pocket starts to close in I can make things happen," he said. "I think I'll be able to bring that element to the offense and maybe open things up for other teammates."
That's a scary prospect for opponents, considering the latest collection of coveted offensive recruits set to arrive next summer. Barnett, who threw for 2,300 yards and 22 touchdowns as a junior, has quickly claimed a leadership role in Alabama's class and is ready to get started on the upcoming chapter of his football career.
He'll be able to expand his reach during a stay in Beaverton, where Nike's "The Opening" takes center stage July 8-10. The star-studded event includes 10 Tide commits.
"I'm definitely ready to get to know these guys in person, spend a few days competing and talk about what we can accomplish together in the future," Barnett said.
It's a future that could feature the most dynamic threat behind center during Saban's stunningly successful tenure in Tuscaloosa. Alabama is adapting, a necessary step as it looks to maintain its place on the college football mountaintop.
Recruit information and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.
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