Saban Discusses O.J. Howard As Pass Catcher

Throughout the Nick Saban Era of Alabama football, now in its eighth season, a notable feature of the Crimson Tide offense has been the balance between rushing and passing. A mild surprise this year has been that Bama has had nearly as many pass plays (71) as rush plays (81) in the first two games.

Alabama passing yardage far exceeds rush yardage to date, 680 by air, 478 by land.

Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban said Wednesday that, “I think people are still sort of playing us to stop the run, mostly. I think that's what's opened up some of the passing game for us. I think that balance is going to be critical for us to be able to be an effective offensive team in the future.”

It is no surprise that junior wide receiver Amari Cooper has benefited from the Bama passing attack. He’s leading the nation in receiving yardage with 319 yards, an average of 159.5 yards per game. He had 12 receptions in Alabama’s opening game win over West Virginia, then had a school record-tying 13 receptions in last week’s win over Florida Atantic.

Saban said, “He's always had great ability. He's really played a lot of really, really good football with us. I think the biggest difference is he's matured in terms of his ability to overcome bad plays and never really show any frustration and just be able to go on to the next play and continue to play well.

“That's really effectively made him a much more successful player, because his consistency in performance is much, much better because of that.”

The mystery of Alabama’s passing game this year is the absence of tight end O.J. Howard in the receiving column. Howard, a 6-6, 240-pound sophomore tight end, has been identified by Saban as a “mis-match guy” because Howard is so large it is difficult for a smaller defensive back to cover him and so fast it is difficult for a linebacker to stay with him.

Last year Howard had 14 receptions for 269 yards, an impressive 19.2 yards per catch, and had two touchdowns.

So what’s the problem this year?

Saban said, “O.J. Howard is a guy that we need to get more involved in probably what we're doing. I think he has some capabilities to make plays that we need to take advantage of. He has been open a few times and we just haven't gotten him the ball. But I also think he needs to continue his development as a complete player at his position in terms of doing the other things, whether it's blocking or whatever, so that he can continue to progress.”

In his regular Wednesday Southeastern Conference press briefing, Saban said one top receiver would not likely be ready for this week’s game when Bama hosts Southern Miss in Bryant-Denny Stadium at 5 p.m. Saturday. ESPN2 will televise the game.

DeAndrew White, a senior starter at flanker, injured his shoulder in the season-opener and is not expected to return until the Florida game on Sept. 20.

Saban said, “Dee White, we said in the beginning, would be out for two weeks, and that's still last week and this week. He actually is running and doing some things but we don't think he's ready to play this week. Hopefully, we'll be able to see how he progresses next week and make a decision late in the week on where he is next week.”

As far as the second-ranked Crimson Tide, Saban said, “We were sort of pleased with the progress that we made in terms of improving from week one to week two, but it is a work in progress. We need to focus on what we need to do to continue to get our guys to pay attention to detail. Southern Miss is a much-improved team and obviously they have the ability to score points and they're playing better on defense.

“I think our ability to continue to stay focused -- I called it 'focus stamina' -- this week so that your consistency in performance continues to improve is really a key for us in terms of the challenges that we have ahead of us.

“I think this team has played hard, played with toughness. The intangibles have been pretty good. The issue is mental errors, making mistakes, more consistency in the way you execute what you do. I don't think you can create an identity of just execution. I think you have to have the other intangibles, which this team has shown up to this point and hopefully we'll be able to continue to build on as we improve the execution.”

In answer to a question about back-up offensive lineman Grant Hill, Saban said, “Grant is doing really well. We have every confidence that if Grant had to go in the game and play, that he would do a really, really good job. He did a nice job last week when he got the opportunity to play.

“We just felt bad that the game got shortened by the weather and some of those guys couldn't get to play more and gain some valuable experience for their development. But Grant has done a really good job all year long.”

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