The closer the NFL draft (which begins April 27) the more discussion likely on the value of a tight end like O.J. Howard. Howard, who was offensive MVP of Alabama’s 2015 national championship game win, was not over-utilized as a receiver with the Crimson Tide, but was nevertheless a formidible weapon.
And now O.J. is gone, projected by many to be among the top players taken in the NFL draft. In Bama’s offense, there are basically two tight end positions. Y is the on-the-line, traditional tight end position that is more offensive tackle-like than receiver. H is in the backfield as a slot, more receiver, and if was as H that Howard was most prominent.
Alabama also uses two on-the-line tight ends in certain situations, notably power runs in short yardage or goalline. Anytime a team has two right ends, regardless if both are on the line or one is Y and one is H, it is known as 12 personnel. That’s one running back and two tight ends. Bama Coach Nick Saban said that is not a part of Crimson Tide nomenclature.
Saban used some interesting description, though, when discussing Alabama sophomore tight end Miller Forristall. Saban called Forristall as “O.J.-like.”
“I saw it,” Forristall said. “One of my guys on the team commented on it on Twitter. It was pretty funny. I’m not quite O.J., and I know that. I don’t want to be. I just want to do my job, be Miller Forristall.”
That’s not to say Forristall didn’t take it as a compliment. “Of course,” he said. “O.J.’s a great player, a great guy and I respect him a lot. So it was a compliment.”
Forristall, 6-5, 225, came to Alabama from Cartersville, Ga., as an early enrollee in 2016. He was a starter in two games last year, the season-opener against Southern Cal and the Southeastern Conference Championship Game against Florida. He played in all 15 games in Bama’s 14-1 season.
Forristall played primarily as Howard’s backup at H last season. His five catches were far behind Howard’s 45 catches. Forristall gained 73 yards compared to Howard’s 595.
Forristall doesn’t expect to spend all his time as a slot receiver, and even in that role it’s a place where, as he puts it, “You play tight end knowing you’ve got to get your hands dirty.”
There are days he works more at H, other days where he works more at Y. “Whatever the coach wants that day,” he said. It’s a challenge to know the assignments of both, he said.
Having Brian Daboll (who previously coached tight ends with the New England Patriotrs) and a new tight ends coach In Jon Pannunzio doesn’t change things, Forristall said. “Playing tight end is still playing tight end,” he said. “We still block, we still catch passes. You can’t really change the position.”
That said, Forristall likes the potential for new opportunities. He cited the success of the Patriots with tight end Rob Gronkowski under Daboll and said he hoped “we can get some opportunities here.”
Asked if he had watched Gronkowski, Forristall said “A lot. A lot. You grow up playing tight end in high school, so of course you watch Gronk and you watch Tony Gonzalez and those guys. But now it’s like, ’His coach is here!’ That’s pretty cool. We have all their film. We get to watch it. That’s a lot of stuff to study.”
Pannunzio made an impression when he told the tight ends, “If you ever need anything, you let me know. I’m here for you.”
What Pannunzio will need from Forristall (and the other tight ends) is physical play, men who can handle the blocking role.
Forristall knows it is part of the position. He said he didn’t block as much in high school, but knew that would be key at Alabama. “I can watch TV and figure that out,” he said.
He also said, “I like blocking. I have nothing against getting my hands dirty. I think it’s fun.
He also said he follows the lead of Hale Hentges, a 6-5, 260-pound junior who is considered more the Y tight end, in blocking and in other aspects of tight end play.
Forristall’s teammates give him high marks.
Safety Ronnie Harrison said, “He’s progressed a lot. When he first came in, he came in with aggressiveness already, so he’s always had that aggressiveness. But now he’s working on his technique and his craft and his route-running, and he’s definitely getting it.”
Guard Ross Pierschbacher said, “You have to have that kind of mindset. Here they are going to block. Going up against the big dudes of the SEC takes a little while to get used to the physicality. Miller’s done a really good job, and he has a great mindset. He’s not going to back down from anyone. He’s earned a lot of respect from the older guys, seeing that he has that kind of dog-fight mentality.”
His fellow tight end, Hentges, said that Forristall is gaining muscle “because that’s something we all have to do in order to block these freaks thqat we block every day. Miller has really done a phenomenal job, whether it’s catching passes or blocking. He’s worked extremely hard. He’s stayed in the playbook.”
Asked about what it takes to come into Alabama and play as a true freshman, the playbook was the first thing Forristall mentioned. “You’ve really got to know the playbook,” he said. “You’ve got to spend your time extra. You have to come in ready. I think having a really good high school coach helps; coming from a good program. And coming in early helped me a lot. I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but it helped me a lot.”
Forristall is looking ahead to 2017.“Last season was a lot of fun,” he said. We’re trying to move on to this season. Last season was last season. It was what it was. We’re trying to move on and be better, be a new team.”
He called the tight end group “very talented.” In addition to Hentges and Forristall, it includes sophomore Irv Smith, true freshman Major Tennison, and Ronnie Clark moving from tailback to H and working with the tight ends.