Alabama returns six offensive starters from the 2015 national championship Crimson Tide team, but in the spring only three of those players were in their expected positions. Left tackle Cam Robinson was held out as he recuperated from off-season shoulder surgery, right guard Alphonse Taylor was demoted to second team for what Bama Coach Nick Saban attributed to Taylor being overweight, and last year’s left guard, Ross Pierschbacher, made the move to No. 1 center in the spring.
Alabama did have wide receivers Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart and tight end O.J. Howard back for the spring.
Starters lost to graduation and/or the NFL draft are Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry at tailback, Jake Coker at quarterback, Ryan Kelly at center, Richard Mullaney at slot receiver, and Dominick Jackson at right tackle.
Most Alabama followers know that Saban isn’t issuing any depth chart at the end of spring practice. That will come in the week prior to the season-opening game against Southern Cal on Sept. 3.
Nonetheless, here is our guess at what the 2016 offensive depth chart might look like, based on the 15 Spring practices (including A-Day), limited practice views, and a history of players, particularly from 2015. There also are observations on the positions.
QUARTERBACK: Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell, Blake Barnett, Jalen Hurts
Bateman took the majority of the snaps with the first unit all spring, including A-Day. He is the only letterman returning at the position, and even a started a game last year in the loss to Ole Miss. Bateman has a serviceable, not great arm, but is fairly accurate when given time to throw. He can run the read option, once he decides to actually read the end and not hand off every time as he did against Ole Miss.
Cornwell has the strongest arm of the four, but not the most accurate. He will continue to push Bateman. Barnett had two bad scrimmages before a fairly solid A-Day. He can run and throw. Improving ball security could keep him in the race. He’s not out of it yet.
Hurts is a wild card. He has improved almost daily since arriving for a week of championship game practice in January. He is best runner of the four, and has a strong arm that is fairly accurate. There is talk that Lane Kiffin may put in some short yardage/goal line packages for Hurts, who will be a weapon if that’s the case. History suggests he will redshirt, but that’s not a done deal.
INLINE TIGHT END: Hale Hentges, Brandon Greene
This race is fairly cut and dried. Hentges will be over 260 by the time the pads go on in August. He has improved as a receiver, and was a good blocker last season. Greene is a classic short yardage blocking tight end. He, too, has improved as a receiver.
H-BACK/RECEIVING TIGHT END: O.J. Howard, Miller Forristall
Howard exploded in the national title win over Clemson. America now knows what he can do. His blocking improved last season, too. Forristall was perhaps the most pleasant spring surprise of the true freshmen. He had a solid spring, and showed he can get open and catch the ball.
WIDE RECEIVER ONE: Calvin Ridley, Cameron Sims
Ridley brings back memories of Amari Cooper. Sims is healthy again, and likely the fourth guy, though he’ll be pushed for that role by Bowling Green transfer Gehrig Dieter.
WIDE RECEIVER TWO: Ardarius Stewart, Daylon Charlot, Xavian Marks
Few players improved over the course of last season more than Stewart. Charlot is a very fast player, who must improve on looking the ball into his hands. Marks is perhaps 5-8, but there could be some special plays run for him due to his track speed.
WIDE RECEIVER THREE: Robert Foster, Derrick Kief, T.J. Simmons
A healthy foster is quite the weapon, both between the 20’s and near the goal line at 6-foot-2. Kief has improved to the point that he’s pushing for playing time. Bama has a wealth of talent at this position. True freshman Simmons has a lot of raw ability, but will likely have to wait his turn. Barring injury, he will likely redshirt.
LEFT TACKLE: Cam Robinson, Korren Kirven OR Charles Baldwin
Robinson will likely go pro after his junior year. He’s arguably the best at his job in America. He missed spring with an injury, so many others got reps here. Kirven looks to be a “swing tackle” like Alfred McCullough back in 2011 if Kirven doesn’t win a job elsewhere on the line. Baldwin is raw, but strong. He could be a factor somewhere before the year is out.
LEFT GUARD: Lester Cotton, Dallas Warmack, Josh Casher
Cotton has earned a job here. He’s clearly one of the Tide’s top five lineman exiting spring, If need be, he can play right tackle. Warmack is a quality sub. Casher is a guy fighting for time at a couple of spots
CENTER: Ross Pierschbacher, JC Hassenauer, Josh Casher
The experiment moving 2015 left guard starter Pierschbacher to center was a rousing success. He mastered the line calls and blocking schemes very quickly. Hassenauer is a quality backup who would start for many teams in the SEC. Casher can help here, if needed.
RIGHT GUARD: Brandon Kennedy OR Alphonse Taylor, Bradley Bozeman
Kennedy ran with the ones all spring due to Taylor being overweight, per Saban. Kennedy can also snap the ball. Taylor started all 15 games last year. He may well start against USC. Bozeman is a man who can literally play all five line spots. The guess here is he is the “swing guard,” but he can play anywhere he’s needed. He played left tackle at A-Day, due to Robinson’s injury, but he’s better inside.
RIGHT TACKLE: Jonah Williams OR Korren Kirven, Matt Womack OR Charles Baldwin.
Lots of guys got snaps here in the spring. Williams is perhaps the league’s top true freshman tackle, but he had his ups and downs against the likes of Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson. Who wouldn’t? Kirven will fight for this spot, and he played it well in his lone 2015 start against Charleston Southern. This is probably Baldwin’s natural position, but he has yet to win it. He may have to wait until 2017 when Williams shifts to the left side. Womack has gotten better and ran a lot with the twos this spring.
NEXT: A look at defense and special teams for the 2016 Crimson Tide