It’s safe to say that Alabama tight end O.J. Howard wouldn’t take anything for the performance he had in the Crimson Tide’s national championship game win over Clemson, but he probably would like to have another top outing early in 2016 so he didn’t have to keep answering the same question.
The obvious question, asked in any number of ways, is how that performance in the 45-40 win in the College Football Playoff Championship Game will affect how Howard is used this season.
Just to refresh, Howard was named the Most Outstanding Offensive Player after he caught five passes for a career-high 208 yards and a touchdown in the title game. The yards set an Alabama bowl record and were the most by any player in any national championship game.
But Howard isn’t predicting that he take over as the No. 1 receiving target for Alabama this year. His diplomatic answer begins, “It really depends on what the team needs.”
Following Monday’s practice, Howard said, “I know I need to block, I would definitely have to do that playing tight end in the run game; (and) go out there catch some passes for us. Whatever the team needs, Coach Kiffin (Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin) does a great job of calling plays. We have a lot of weapons, so the ball will be spread around. The biggest thing for me is once a play comes my way, make a play on it. Whatever the team needs, that’s what I’m looking forward to do this season.”
Howard also gets his share of questions about Alabama’s ongoing quarterback competition with junior Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett, and freshman Jalen Hurts still competing with sophomore David Cornwell in the wings as he recovers from a summer foot injury.
That’s partly because Howard will be playing with his fourth quarterback in four years – AJ McCarron in his freshman season, followed by Blake Sims in 2014, and Jake Coker last year.
“Year after year,” Howard said. “It’s second nature now. It’s my fourth year with a different quarterback, so I’m used to it, man. I think our coaches do a great job of preparing for it the whole summer with the reps that we do in seven-on-sevens and coming over to camp, so we all have that same bond and we’re in sync together when we are running routes. The timing is down with each quarterback, so whoever wins the job, we’ll have time with each quarterback. It works out well for us each year.
“I think these guys are doing a great job. My job is really to let those guys gain trust in me and the way I run routes and catch the ball. I think that’s for everybody on the offensive side of the ball. Those guys have done a great job being leaders in the huddle. You know, sometimes when things are going south, they kind of pick everybody up, ‘Let’s go, let’s get it going,’ I think if they keep doing that, we’ll be fine.”
A regular discussion of that quarterback position, starting with Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban, is the search for leadership.
“The biggest thing is a leader,” he said. “Who can lead the offense, take charge? That’s what Coach wants to see out of a quarterback, too, I’m pretty sure. Take charge, take command of the huddle.”
On the field, he said, “Guys who make plays, smart with the ball. We don’t want turnovers. Any type of turnover hurts us, so we need to take care of the ball.”
Howard doesn’t think age has anything to do with leadership. He said a freshman could be that guy. “It doesn’t matter how old you are,” he said. “A leader just comes; born. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Anybody can lead.”
Howard can’t predict when that leader in the quarterback competition will emerge.
“It varies,” he said. “It can happen during camp, during the season, you never know, but you know when it happens. You just get that feeling, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the guy.’ You can’t tell when it’s going to happen, but when it does, you know.
“Each quarterback is doing a very good job of being a leader, so I think we are close.”