TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s become a local holiday of sorts around these parts: Depth Chart Day.
Alabama coach Nick Saban released the first—and only—official depth chart of the season. He always warns that this is in no way concrete and should be taken with a grain of salt.
So let’s break it down.
Below is the depth chart handed out to media members on Monday and a few takeaways from it.
|Official 2014 Alabama depth chart|
|Position||1st String||2nd String||3rd String|
|QB||Blake Sims/Jake Coker||Alec Morris||Cooper Bateman|
|RB||T.J. Yeldon||Derrick Henry||Kenyan Drake|
|FB||Jalston Fowler||Michael Nysewander/Kurt Freitag/Corey McCarron||Michael Nysewander/Kurt Freitag/Corey McCarron|
|TE||Brian Vogler/O.J. Howard||Dakota Ball||Ty Flournoy-Smith|
|WR (X)||Amari Cooper||ArDarius Stewart||Raheem Falkins/Cam Sims|
|WR (Z)||DeAndrew White||Robert Foster||N/A|
|WR (H)||Christion Jones||Chris Black||N/A|
|LT||Cam Robinson||Dominick Jackson||N/A|
|LG||Arie Kouandjio||Ross Pierschbacher||N/A|
|C||Ryan Kelly||Bradley Bozeman/Josh Casher||N/A|
|RG||Alphonse Taylor||Leon Brown||N/A|
|RT||Austin Shepherd||Grant Hill||N/A|
|DE||Jonathan Allen/Dalvin Tomlinson||Dee Liner||N/A|
|NG||A'Shawn Robinson||Darren Lake/Brandon Ivory||Joshua Frazer|
|DE||D.J. Pettway||Da'Shawn Hand/Jarran Reed||N/A|
|SAM||Denzel Devall||Dillon Lee||Rashaan Evans/Christian Miller|
|MIKE||Trey DePriest/Reuben Foster||Shaun Dion Hamilton||N/A|
|WILL||Reggie Ragland/Reuben Foster||Walker Jones||N/A|
|JACK||Xzavier Dickson||Ryan Anderson||N/A|
|CB||Bradley Sylve||Maurice Smith/Marlon Humphrey||N/A|
|CB||Cyrus Jones||Tony Brown/Eddie Jackson||N/A|
|SS||Landon Collins||Jarrick Williams||Laurence "Hootie" Jones|
|FS||Nick Perry/Geno Smith||Jabriel Washington||N/A|
|Star||Jarrick Williams/Geno Smith||Maurice Smith||N/A|
|PK/KO||Adam Griffith||JK Scott||N/A|
|Holder||Cooper Bateman||Alec Morris||N/A|
|P||JK Scott||Alec Morris||N/A|
|LS||Cole Mazza||M.K. Taylor/Michael Nysewander||N/A|
|PR||Christion Jones||Cyrus Jones||N/A|
|KOR||Christion Jones and DeAndrew White||Cyrus Jones and Landon Collins||N/A|
1. Freshmen in key roles
It was all but official up until Monday, but it looks like Alabama will enter the season with a true freshman at left tackle. Cam Robinson, a former 5-star recruit, will be tasked with protecting the quarterback’s (whoever it is) blind side. While Saban said he couldn’t remember ever having started a freshman at such a key spot, it shows the confidence Saban has in the freshman.
Elsewhere, plenty of members of Alabama’s No. 1 2014 recruiting class dot the depth chart.
Joshua Frazier or Da’Shawn Hand could see some playing time on the defensive line, while Saban said Rashaan Evans has impressed at outside linebacker. Two 5-star freshman corners, Marlon Humphrey and Tony Brown, are both listed as second-team corners.
The only other true freshman starter, though, is at punter, where JK Scott is set to handle those duties.
2. Rotation at inside linebacker
Alabama has three capable options at inside linebacker in senior Trey DePriest, junior Reggie Ragland and sophomore Reuben Foster. It looks like the three of them will all play at some point in certain situations.
Foster is one of Saban’s higher-profile recruits, a 5-star from Auburn High School that Alabama snatched from its in-state rival. He’s dealt with frequent neck-stinger injuries stemming from poor tackling form. Saban said he’s learning and improving in that area.
“Reuben is one of these guys that loved to duck his head when he tackled,” he said. “I'm not saying he wasn't an effective tackler. That's what created a lot of problems with his stingers. We've had to re-, sort of, teach him how to take on blockers, how to tackle, so that he is not doing that. Now he's been able to stay healthier and he's been able to make it through scrimmages and he's not had the same issues. I think that's important because I think he can be a player who can contribute a lot to this team this year, especially with the depth situation we have at inside backer.”
It looks like Foster will have a big role on this defense, as he’s listed in that “/” spot at both starting linebacker spots. He’s likely to contribute based on the opponent and the situation at hand.
3. Versatility on the defensive line
One of Saban’s frustrations in releasing a depth chart is that things don’t always stay the same in terms of formations or personnel.
A’Shawn Robinson is the perfect example.
The 6’4”, 320-pound defensive lineman could play inside or outside up front, depending on the type of offense Alabama faces. Against West Virginia, he’ll likely play in the middle at nose against a spread-out, uptempo attack, where Alabama wants to have some speed. Against a power team like LSU, though, that role could go to Brandon Ivory, with Robinson outside.
“Really, with the defensive line situation that we have, if we're playing against a team that was in regular, we would play A'Shawn at five-technique and Ivory at nose because they're the best guys to stop the run,” he said. “In nickel situations, we try to get more athletic when we play nickel.
“So now, whether it's Jarran Reed or A'Shawn, they kind of go in and play nose and three-technique with some of our other guys, whether it's Jonathan Allen or Dalvin Tomlinson or whatever, so that we're a little bit more athletic in the pass-rush part of it, got a little more speed on the field, guys can chase down screens better, all those types of things.”
That kind of versatility on the defensive line is a luxury Alabama has with so many diverse options. The three-deep is loaded with quality talent all around who can play in any number of scenarios.
4. Running back rotation
While there were plenty of back-slashes across the depth chart, there wasn’t one at running back, where Saban has seemingly decided on a hierarchy in the backfield, with Derrick Henry passing Kenyan Drake.
He still, though, appreciates the diversity that all three bring to the table and wants to get all three involved in the offense.
“Derrick Henry and T.J. (Yeldon) probably are more of the sort of inside, downhill, do-it-all kind of runners,” Saban said. “Kenyan Drake, because of his great speed, can do those things but is also a really good receiver as well as a regular runner. I think all three of those guys are guys we definitely want involved in the game that have playmaking ability. We're very confident that all three of them can make a significant contribution to our team in some kind of way this year.”
5. Not settled on a quarterback
If you were expecting a resolution to Alabama’s quarterback competition, you were disappointed on Monday, with both Blake Sims and Jake Coker listed in the No. 1 slot.
It may seem like a given that both will play equally in the opening game, but Saban wasn’t even ready to go that far yet.
“We don't have any plans to do that at this point in this game,” Saban said. “But that doesn't mean that whatever pitcher starts the game is necessarily going to pitch nine innings. I mean, Joe Girardi tells Tanaka he's starting in the game, he's not telling him he's going to pitch nine innings. Does he tell them that, or does he just pitch until he doesn't pitch well any more?”
He later said, “That decision has not been made yet” when asked if both quarterbacks would play.
Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.