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One of the thinnest position groups entering the spring, the TEs have added a whole lot of reinforcements this summer, if a bit raw.
After years of steady, if unspectacular, performance from Miller Forristall at the tight end spot, Alabama entered 2021 with only Jahleel Billingsley returning with any experience whatsoever… And even that was as more of a hybrid receiving threat than a standard tight end. On top of that, veteran back up Major Tennison went AWOL, and reserve Michael Parker transferred out.
When all was said and done, the Tide was left with Billingsley, converted linebacker Cam Latu, and true freshman Robbie Ouzts.
It wound up being a bit of a sore spot for the team and fans. While Latu’s 410 yards and 8 touchdowns were better than all but OJ Howard in 2015-2015 and Irv Smith in 2018 in Nick Saban’s tenure, he also had some very critical drops (mostly in endzone) this season. And Billingsley was a season-long saga of drama, as he was benched early in the season, called out in press conferences repeatedly, was dogged for poor blocking all season, and ultimately dropped a 4th down conversion that very likely would put Alabama in the driver’s seat to win the national championship game.
Throw in Ouzts looking promising early on before missing the second half of the season with injury, and it was a frustrating position group for Tide fans and coaches alike.
Jahleel “Billboard” Billingsley – After finishing the season in a puddle of shame, Billingsley left for greener pastures in Texas. There have been rumblings he may be struggling to fit into the locker room there as well.
Caden Clark – A grayshirt freshman, Clark never saw the field at Alabama and transferred out to Akron
Major Tennison – Looked to be a solid player for the Tide years ago, but went totally AWOL in 2021. Assumed to be a medical retirement after he graduated, but it was never confirmed by the coaches.
Coach Drew Svoboda – Svoboda was yet another TE/Special teams combo coach that joined the Tide fairly late in the hiring process before the 2021 season. He’s now been moved to an off-field role as Nick Saban’s “Senior Special Assistant”
Cam Latu – Once a coveted, explosive pass rusher out of Utah, Latu moved to TE a few years back out of necessity. He racked up 410 yards and an impressive 8 touchdowns in his first season as a starter. Latu is a versatile athlete with a lot explosive ability as both a pass catcher and a blocker, but has struggled with consistency and confidence in both aspects.
Unfortunately, he also has a knee issue going into fall camp, and will miss a few weeks, likely putting him behind the curve a little.
Robbie Ouzts – A freshman in 2021, Ouzts found his way onto the field as a fullback and short-yardage blocker throughout the season before an injury held him out of the final stretch of 2021. He’s a dense, powerful blocker who’s also demonstrated the ability to plow through would-be tacklers with the ball in his hands. With Latu out, he’s likely the Tide’s #1 in the pecking order right now.
Kendall Randolph – The 6th year senior joined the Tide sometime around the time the Mayflower landed, and has doubled as an offensive lineman and short yardage TE for at least two decades now. So far, it seems he’s given up the TE role to try and win a starting job on the OL this year. But he’s still around for emergencies.
This is where the bulk of this article comes from. Alabama added a LOT of help at TE this offseason. They may not all be ready this year, but the Tide finally has a cupboard stocked for the future at this position.
Miles Kitselman – A JUCO transfer from the powerhouse of Hutchinson C.C. in Kansas, the Alabama staff found Kitselman this spring while scouting other players, and fell in love with his blocking prowess, offering him a scholarship spot to transfer immediately. He’s a big guy with quick feet that excels at open-space and downfield blocking. Don’t be surprised if he finds significant playing time this season.
Elijah Brown – The only early enrollee of the group, Brown is a balanced player who could develop into solid player for the Tide down the road. He’s got good height at 6’5”, but isn’t quite fast enough to be a hybrid receiver type, nor thick enough yet to be a powerful in-line blocker.
Amari Niblack – At 6’4” 220, Niblack is built more like Julio Jones than a true tight end, and drew all kinds of rave reviews from beat writers a summer ago after dominating the camps in Tuscaloosa. Though he’ll have a lot of learning to do as a blocker, he’s the best athlete and receiver at the spot Alabama has had on the roster since O.J. Howard, and I fully expect he finds some snaps this year as the coaches look for mismatches.
Danny Lewis – Lewis was a late signee who had a bit of a Josh Jacobs-esque recruitment, being found late by a host of SEC teams that all were suddenly trying to get the 3-star’s signature by the February signing day. Of the group, he likely has the most intriguing potential. As a 6’5” 255 monster of an athlete, he’s a notable basketball player who’s got that unteachable ability to just go up and over people and come down with jump ball catches.
His size lets him run right through would-be tacklers with the ball in his hands, and while his blocking needs a good bit of work, it’s not for lack of effort and nasty streak. Teach those 260 pounds a little bit of good technique, and he just might wind up becoming a true force of nature.
Coach Joe Cox – AT LONG LAST, Nick Saban dedicated a coach specifically to the tight ends, and that coach is Joe Cox.
Cox is young, but is a Mark Richt disciple who knows the importance of TEs in pro-style offenses. He’s already developed a track record at Colorado State, Charlotte, and South Carolina for elevating the position group and using a steady rotation of players, even freshmen if they’re ready to play.
Predicted Depth Chart
I’m going to assume that Cam Latu’s knee issue resolves itself before the season starts, and he’s a full-go. That’s definitely not a given, though.
TE-Y: Cam Latu, Mile Kitselman, Danny Lewis
TE-H: Robbie Ouzts, Amari Niblack, Elijah Brown