The University of Alabama got a big addition to an already loaded receiving corps in tight end O.J. Howard. Literally. At 6 feet 6 inches, 237 pounds, Howard brings uncanny size and versatility to the tight end and H-back position.
“He’s a whole new dimension to this offense,” tight end Brian Vogler said. “He’s very long, very athletic, very fast. He’s learning very fast and he takes teaching, which I think really says a lot about his character as a player. He’s making progress and I think he’ll be a viable addition to our offense.”
Howard enrolled in January and could play a number of positions, including tight end, H-back or even slot receiver. He’s big enough to create mismatches when covered by a linebacker, but has the speed to beat corner backs.
“It just depends on what they want me to do,” Howard said of a position change. “I can put weight on and play Y or play H. If it’s up to me, I’ll play both. I’m looking forward to playing a little bit of both.”
His blocking, however, will need to improve. Former tight end Michael Williams was essentially like another tackle when he stepped up to the line of scrimmage. His run blocking prowess allowed the Crimson Tide to have a big year rushing the football. And Howard’s blocking ability may be the determining factor in how fast he gets on the field.
“O.J. Howard is very athletic and a very good pass receiver,” head coach Nick Saban said. “Definitely needs to work on blocking and that type of thing – which he didn’t do much in high school. So it’s what you would expect a guy to have to do. I think everybody else is sort of where we think … they would be. We just need to work hard to get them where they need to be.”
Quarterback AJ McCarron echoed his coach’s sentiments about the position.
“We’ve got to have a guy who can block and be a [receiver] at the same time,” McCarron said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys rotating in at that position. We’ve got to keep progressing and having them bond with the O-line and bond with the rest of the passing game – learn timing and routes and stuff like that.”
If Howard can improve his blocking, he can have a long career, just like one of his favorite NFL tight ends.
“Tony Gonzalez. I want to be just like him,” Howard said. “And Vernon Davis with speed. Tony Gonzalez is a class act and a veteran that will be in the Hall of Fame one day. He’s still doing the things right and I have to respect him.”
University of Alabama tight end O.J. Howard shares a room with fellow early enrollee and running back Derrick Henry. Howard has already seen Henry’s freakish build up close. Sometimes, Howard said, Henry will wake up in the middle of the night and do push-ups.
“He’s just a freak,” Howard said. “He scares me sometimes just walking around. I think he’s going to do some crazy things this year. He’s a guy that works really hard.”
At 6-foot-3, 238 pounds, Henry has unnatural size for a running back. Some believed that he could make the switch to linebacker, but throughout the spring, Henry has remained at running back. Linebacker C.J. Mosley offered up a terrifying comparison.
“We were talking about it on the sideline, me and a couple of the players, how Henry looked like a bigger version of Trent Richardson,” Mosley said. “But you have to do what you have to do. So we’ve got to make him better and he’s got to make us better.”
Henry will have a chance to do what T.J. Yeldon did last spring at running back. Yeldon arrived as a highly touted prospect and made a name for himself in the spring. He was named MVP of last year’s A-Day game and went on to have a breakout freshman year, splitting time with the now-departed Eddie Lacy.
“I definitely did pay a lot of attention to him,” Henry said of Yeldon. “When I talked to him when I committed, I started watching him more, talking to him about the style that they run. Alabama is known for big, physical backs, blocking and running.”
Henry will have to depart from his high school habits of being a workhorse back game-in and game-out. He rushed for more than 4,000 yards in high school, averaging 327.8 yards per game and scoring 55 touchdowns. At Alabama, however, head coach Nick Saban has split time among his running backs, and if Henry gets any carries at all, they won’t be nearly as many as he saw in high school.
“It’s not high school anymore,” Henry said. “In high school, you can win about five games with one athlete. That’s basically what we did, because I really was the only D-1 guy on my team. On the collegiate level, everybody’s good. I’m just ready to get to work and hopefully get some carries this season.”