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Changing the game: Howard and McNeil

The tight end position is constantly evolving in the game of football.

From Tony Gonzalez to Antonio Gates to Vernon Davis, the big, athletic, pass-catching tight ends are becoming the new trend in the National Football League, and it was never more apparent than last season with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots.

The duo combined for 218 receptions, 3,053 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2011. Gronkowski alone had 1,585 yards and 20 touchdowns, setting single-season records in both categories at the tight end position.

Leave it to Nick Saban, a disciple of New England head coach Bill Belichick, to copy his former boss and try to bring that type of tight end production to the college game. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened, and it won’t be the last.

“Anytime something works, people are always going to try and copy it and see if it works for them,” ESPN national recruiting analyst Craig Haubert said. “I don’t think there’s any coach in the country who wouldn’t mind having a situation like New England has.”

The University of Alabama may have a situation similar to the Patriots in a couple years with current tight end commitments O.J. Howard and Josh McNeil, also known as the Tide Towers, a nickname given to them by a fan after McNeil committed to UA last month.

Howard is listed at 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, an inch taller and a pound lighter than McNeil. The two are practically clones of each other, and although Howard may be a little ahead of his other half, they clearly have a bright future ahead of them.

“I think having us on the field at the same will be unstoppable,” Howard said. “There’s no question when you have two deep threats like Josh and myself, it will create a lot of mismatches across the middle of the field. That’s wide-open touchdowns, and it allow us to pick up a lot of yards. It will be awesome.”

Still, don’t expect the Crimson Tide to change their philosophy. They have been a running football team since Saban arrived, and they will continue to be a running team. They also have two ESPN 150 running backs committed in this class and could add another.

However, as Haubert explains, that’s part of what makes Howard and McNeil even more valuable to this class.

“When you have two big tight ends like that on the field, they both can be pass-catching threats, but you don’t have to really deviate too much from what you want do in the running game as far as blocking goes,” he said.

One person who is excited about the arrival of Howard and McNeil is current UA quarterback commitment Parker McLeod. He believes the Tide may open up the offense a little more when he gets there because of the skill set the new tight ends will bring to the field.

“I hope so,” McLeod said. “I think with athletes like that, they definitely might use them a little more, a little differently. They use their tight ends now, but more in a blocking scheme. It should be interesting to see what they do with those guys.”