One of the biggest storylines heading into the 2021 CFB season is the changing of the guard regarding the Alabama offense, and how this could look for this upcoming season. Looking back at the last couple years, Alabama has been fortunate to have had a plethora of talent at all positions on the offense, coupled with the dynamic offensive scheming by the former offensive coordinator and now new Texas Head Coach Steve Sarkisian. As a result of this combination, Alabama has produced NINE!!! 1st round offensive draft picks in the last two years alone.
So with this exodus of talent into the pro ranks, and a new offensive coordinator in the much ridiculed former Houston Texans HC/GM Bill O’Brien, what can we expect from the Crimson Tide offense heading into this season.
QB-Bryce Young To Carry The Torch Of Jones And Tua
As with every offense, the first stop is to look at the QB position; and for this year Alabama have someone very very special to take over from Mac Jones.
Enter Bryce Young, Russell Wilson 2.0.
As a 5-star recruit from the 2019 Class and the first QB to be taken in the 2019 recruiting cycle, the California native Bryce Young will provide a whole new concept to the Alabama offense through his playstyle. In Mac Jones and Tua, Alabama’s QB’s in the last couple years were very much reliant on dialling from within the pocket and following the offensive script based upon how the Sarkisian offense schemed open the offensive weapons.
Bryce Young is in the mould of the new modern-day quarterback, and a complete divergence from the Tua and Mac years. His ability to escape pressures and extend plays through his mobility, improvise off script and scramble in the backfield on top of having poise in the pocket gives the Crimson Tide offense a phenomenal talent to build with for this season. Young was able to take the field on a few occasions in 2020, and gave Alabama fans a glimpse of his talent, however in 2021, the offense will be run with Young at the helm.
Do not be surprised to see Young be in the conversation for the Heisman trophy come the end of the 21/22 season, however much will depend on the situation around him and how the offense will be schemed to extract his undeniable talent.
The Renaissance Of New Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Brien
After his catastrophic demise as Head Coach/General Manager/Offensive Coordinator of the Houston Texans, Bill O’Brien will look to revitalise his career with one of the best jobs throughout the whole of college football. Take the Head Coach and GM titles away from O’Brien, and he will now go back to his bread and butter of calling plays and scheming a new offense as offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide.
Before his tenure at the Texans, O’Brien was Head Coach at Penn State where he was named the 2012 Paul Bryant College Coach of the Year Award and Big Ten Coach of the Year. He managed to build an offense that averaged 28.9 points per game and helped Allen Robinson, Jesse James and Donovan Smith become future NFL starters.
In Houston, it was his final full season in 2019 where he took the Texans to the divisional round with Deshaun Watson running the show, that should give Alabama fans an insight in what the offense could look like in 2021. Like Watson, Young is that dual threat mobile QB and the Texans deployed a predominately play action RPO style offense; so, do not be surprised if a similar scheme is adopted by Alabama. The system relied on a stout offensive line, a variety of weapons at Watson’s disposal and the ability for Watson to create plays off-script; so a mirror image of this with Young instead of Watson under centre can be expected.
This should not be too much of a divergence from the Steve Sarkisian’s Alabama offensive philosophies, where the emphasis was to establish the run and building the passing offense based upon the RPO concept. Receivers often created separation based upon their one-on-one match ups in man coverage using their athleticism, speed and route running to create space. Part of creating those one-on-one matchups is that by adopting a quick RPO style offense, defences that play in zone are forced into man coverage.
Offensive Weapons – Who Is Going To Step Up?
Alabama have produced five 1st round offensive weapons in the last two years, where combined, they provided in their time at Alabama a multitude of different skillsets to create dynamic and exciting offenses. This gave Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa a great platform and a much easier task to showcase their ability, knowing they had in their armoury the likes of Jeudy, Ruggs, Waddle, Smith, and Harris at their disposal.
Fast forward to 2021 and who are the next set of weapons in Alabama’s arsenal that will provide the explosiveness and dynamism of their predecessors in the last couple of years.
Top of the tree and WR1 for the Crimson Tide will be John Metchie III. Metchie benefitted from Jaylen Waddle’s injury in 2020 to play a more featured role as WR2 in the Bama offense, notching over 916 yards and 6 TD’s. Metchie does not possess the elite speed and route running ability of either a Smith or Waddle, nor does he possess the prototypical size, so he will need to take a big leap this year to be the featured receiver in the Bama offense.
To help Metchie, expect Alabama to use more tight end sets and incorporate the skills of Jaheel Billingsley as a pass catching TE threat, much in the mould of previous Bama alumni OJ Howard. After performing a slightly more featured role in his sophomore season last year, expect Billingsley to heavily feature this year. At 6ft 4in and 230lbs, the hybrid WR/TE skillset of Billingsley should give Bryce Young a valuable weapon to rely upon.
Behind these two, experienced receivers in Slade Bolden, Xavier Williams and Javon Baker will need to step up to fill the void left by Smith, Waddle, Jeudy and Ruggs. In addition, during the spring practices, two true freshmen big bodied receivers in Agiye Hall and Traeshon Hall showed they may have a role to play in the Bama 2021 offense.
In the backfield, experienced senior Brian Robinson will finally get the keys to be the feature back having sat behind the likes of Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris for the past few years. At 6ft 1in and 228lbs, Robinson fits the mould of the typical Alabama power back. However, he doesn’t offer much in terms of a receiving threat, so don’t surprised to see a RB by committee approach this year, with sophomore Jase McClennan being the name to watch for. McClennan is the explosive, big bodied, dual threat running back, similar to what Najee Harris was in his final season for the Crimson Tide and may be the next special back to come from the Alabama running back conveyor belt.
The Remodelled Offensive Line
Much like the offensive weaponry of the last couple of years, Bama have also provided the NFL with a host of offensive line talent in the last two years. In 2020, Jedrick Wills became a premier tackle at the Cleveland Browns, and in 2021, Alex Leatherwood, Landon Dickerson and Deonte Brown were selected in the draft.
As a result, the offensive line for the Crimson Tide will be retooled this year both from a coaching and personnel aspect.
NFL coaching veteran and former Jacksonville Jaguars HC Doug Marrone will become the new Offensive Line Coach and he will rebuild the line with Evan Neal as the cornerstone of the unit. Neal is a behemoth of a man standing at 6ft 7in 370lbs, and coming into his junior season, he will likely move into the left tackle spot vacated by Leatherwood; having played extremely impressively at right tackle last year.
The biggest questions coming away from spring practices is how the other four positions are likely to be filled and who will be the next lineman to step up. Pierce Quick will most likely take Deonte Brown’s position at Left Guard, Chris Owens will most likely continue at center having taken over from the injured Landon Dickerson at the back end of the 2020 season. Emil Ekiyor will most likely continue at right guard with Tanner Bowles challenging Ekiyor for the spot, and right tackle will be an interesting battle between Javion Cohen and Damieon George as to who replaces the void left by Neal moving to left tackle. True freshmen in the Brockermeyer brothers and JC Latham may develop through the season as well to provide depth to the newly built unit.
Whichever five men Marrone selects, it will certainly be interesting to see how this unit plays out within a new scheme, new coaching unit and a more mobile QB under centre.
Alabama are still one of the favourites to be top of the college football tree come the 21/22 season, however, a lot will be dependent on how the offense functions with so many new and moving parts. It is going to fascinating how the unit gels overall, who will step up to fill the voids from both a coaching and player personnel standpoint, and come 12 months’ time, who will be the next stars on the offensive side of the ball that are held in the same esteem as the classes of 2019 and 2020.
How are you feeling about Alabama’s chances in 2021?
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