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Thursday, January 10, 2013
Forecasting the Tide: Tight end/H-back

By Alex Scarborough

Editor’s note: Every Tuesday and Thursday between now and national signing day, TideNation will review each position and look at who figures to start, who could rise up the depth chart and who might be on the way. Today we’ll look at the tight ends and H-backs. 

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If there's one area with the most room for improvement on the Alabama offense, it's at tight end and H-back. Over the course of the Crimson Tide's championship run, production there has been inconsistent. Michael Williams was always a superb blocker in the running game, but his play and the play of teammates like Brian Vogler, Kelly Johnson and Harrison Jones as pass-catchers has been limited at best. Williams caught 24 passes while Vogler, Johnson and Jones combined for seven receptions in all. Not since 2007 has Alabama had so few passes caught by tight ends and H-backs.

O.J. Howard
Alabama TE commit O.J. Howard could make an immediate impact for the Tide.
If Alabama is on track to become a dynamic offense under coordinator Doug Nussmeier, the number of weapons in the passing game must grow. It's all fine and well to have a number of strong receivers like Amari Cooper, Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones, but until the tight ends and H-backs get on board, the progress of the offense will be incomplete.

Coach Nick Saban hinted before the bowl game that Vogler, a sophomore, was coming along. The 6-foot-7 target struggled holding blocks early in the year and couldn't create separation in passing patterns. But as the season wore on, he began to make more of an impact.

"He's done a nice job for us all year long, been kind of a role player, does a really good job of blocking," Saban said of Vogler. "We're hopeful that he continues to progress and becomes a really good player for us on a consistent basis and is a potential starter for us in the future."

Battling for No. 1: Vogler is one name to watch, and another is Jalston Fowler's. The former running back was tested out at H-back before he went down with a season-ending knee injury early in the year. The 6-foot-2, 242-pound athlete has the skill set to make an impact on offense beyond the traditional sense of being a blocker in run support. Jones, who is heading into his junior season, is limited athletically but has a firm grasp of the offense and could find himself in the thick of both the tight end and H-back position battles.

Strength in numbers: The one dark horse candidate to watch is Brent Calloway. The redshirt freshman is an obvious talent with the skill to play running back and linebacker. He was also at H-back for a time this season. At 6-1 and 217 pounds, he's a tad undersized for tight end and doesn't have the natural pass-catching ability you'd like to see from players at the position, but with the ball in his hands, he can make plays. Malcolm Faciane, a 6-5 freshman, has shown well in practice and has the look of a player on the rise. Another intriguing option is moving wide receiver Marvin Shinn to the line, adding some bulk, and playing him at tight end. He's large for a receiver already at 6-3 and 198 pounds and was played some at the position early in the season. He doesn't have the great speed to get separation at receiver, but move him to tight end and that all changes.

Help on the way: O.J. Howard sits poised to change the position of tight end at Alabama. Saban has never signed a player with so much athletic ability at the position. The four-star prospect in the ESPN 150 beat out running backs and wide receivers to receive the highest SPARQ Rating earlier this year, running a 4.63 40-yard dash and registering a 33.2 inch vertical. All that in a 6-5 , 224-pound frame. Simply put, he's a physical freak that will soon be the matchup nightmare of many SEC defensive coordinators. Another incoming freshman to watch will be athlete Derrick Henry, Alabama's highest rated commitment. The third-ranked athlete in the ESPN 150 is likely to start out at running back but at 6-3 and 243 pounds, he might be a better fit physically to play the role of H-back. With his ability to run the football and catch passes out of the backfield, he could develop into a player from Saban's past -- former LSU standout Jacob Hester.