When last we looked, we were breathing a sigh of relief that O.J. Howard had elected to return to Alabama for his senior season. That’s because in one game – a most important game since it was for the national championship – Howard had lived up to his long-running billing.
Barely a month ago O.J. Howard was named Most Valuable Offensive Player in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game as his receptions were the highlight in a game of highlights, Alabama’s 45-40 win over Clemson in Glendale, Ariz.
Howard had a 53-yard touchdown pass reception from Jacob Coker to give Bama a 21-14 lead early in the third quarter, a 51-yard TD reception to put the Crimson Tide up by 31-24 in the fourth quarter, and a 63-yard reception to the Clemson 14 that set up a 1-yard Derrick Henry run for the winning points with just over a minute to play. He had a couple of other catches, too, for a career night of 5 receptions for 208 yards.
For the year, Howard had 38 receptions for 602 yards (15.8 per catch) and 2 TDs. In his three years at Bama he has 69 catches for 1,131 yards and four touchdowns.
Alabama actually has two tight end positions. Although Howard sometimes plays on the line of scrimmage, the 6-6, 242-pound upcoming senior is usually a slot player, split out from the offensive line. The traditional tight end position next to a tackle (and playing much like a tackle with blocking job one) was split last year between Hale Hentges (6-5, 235), who was a true freshman, and Dakota Ball (6-3, 254), a former defensive lineman who is an upcoming senior.
Both Hentges and Ball had one reception each last year, Hentges for five yards, Ball for eight. Both also had two starts with Hentges seeing action in 14 of Bama’s 15 games and Ball in 12.
When Alabama begins spring practice next month, those will be the primary performers at those two tight end spots. Similar to wide receivers being able to play split end, flanker, and slot, the tight ends can play at either spot.
By the time of the A-Day Game on April 16, true freshman Miller Forristall (6-6, 210), who entered The University for the spring semester, will have been schooled at tight end. Alabama also returns walk-ons in senior David D’Amico (6-0, 211) and juniors Hunter Bryant (6-5, 222) and Jacob Parker (6-1, 218).
Alabama also uses senior Brandon Green, a 6-5, 300-pound offensive tackle, at tight end in special situations, primarily as a blocker, but he had a memorable 24-yard pass reception in Bama’s overtime win over LSU in 2014.
Sophomore Johnny Dwight (6-3, 300) has worked at tight end, but is expected to be used solely on the defensive line this year.
Lost from the tight end corps is Ty Flournoy-Smith, a junior college transfer who played in 12 games the past two years with 5 receptions for 66 yards and 1 TD.
NEXT: Our series looking at all positions for spring practice will address offensive tackle