5 Alabama players who need to pick it up. Now
Alabama has enjoyed a 2-0 start in every season that Nick Saban has been the coach. Year 11, of course, has been no different, with the Tide opening with wins over Florida State and Fresno State.
The strong start is nothing new, but it hasn’t seemed like the “same ol’ Alabama” team that we’ve been accustomed to watching. That’s not necessary a bad thing, either.
Eleven freshmen from the 2017 recruiting class have played this season, and there are several others who are emerging as major contributors to their position’s rotation — including running back Najee Harris, wide receivers Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III, and linebackers Dylan Moses and Chris Allen.
With that said, there are also several players who haven’t performed well — if at all. Whether it’s underperforming, injuries preventing them from getting on the field or simply youth, something has to click for these five players if Alabama wants to continue their dominance.
1. Da’Shawn Hand, DL
The expectations for Hand have been high ever since he chose Alabama in 2013. Heading into this season, the 5-star prospect was pegged by fans as the next Jonathan Allen, and so far, nothing could be further from the truth.
Through two games, Hand hasn’t made much of an impact on the stat sheet. He’s only recorded two tackles, neither for loss. He has no sacks or QB pressures. His absence has gone further that just statistics, however. Hand just doesn’t seem to have taken the step that most people were expecting.
Some draft pundits had Hand as a potential first-rounder in 2018, but many have been left scratching their heads.
After the injuries to Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis, there was speculation that Hand could start seeing snaps at Jack linebacker. The problem is that he doesn’t possess the athleticism or explosiveness off the edge that is required to dominate at that position. Yes, he can be an edge-setting, early down edge, but that sort of usage isn’t really new to him.
Alabama needs Hand to start getting after the quarterback. He’s shown flashes, but the lack of consistency is a concern.
2. Andy Pappanastos, K
The good new for Pappanastos is that he’s taken a step in the right direction, or so it seems.
After starting the season 3-for-5 against Florida State, the Ole Miss grad transfer made both of his attempts against Fresno State on Saturday. Yes, they were only from 22 and 24 yards out, but makes are makes. The 11.4-percent increase on his conversion rate should at least help build his confidence.
Alabama needs Pappanastos to continue to build on this performance as SEC play approaches, starting next week against Vanderbilt. The lack of a consistent kicking game has been Saban’s Achilles’ heel at Alabama, but the team has still found a way to win.
Pappanastos managing to become to a consistent threat would make that result a lot easier to come by, however.
3. Josh Jacobs, RB
Alabama’s depth at running back is one of the team’s strengths, but Jacobs’ availability will add an element that has been lacking.
Bo Scarbrough, in addition to both Damien and Najee Harris, isn’t what you would call an electric running back. All three are extremely talented, but they all possess a much different skill set than Jacobs — a power, downhill approach.
Jacobs has been dealing with a hamstring issue, but Alabama needs the versatility he provides. He was fourth on the team in rushing yards (567) in 2016, but he was also fifth in receiving yards (156), which was the most among the running backs. He also had a two-game stretch against Kent State and Kentucky where he managed to put up 274 yards from scrimmage (197 rushing, 77 receiving) and three touchdowns.
His ability to impact both phases helps the offense in general and QB Jalen Hurts in particular. So far, Hurts hasn’t thrown much to his running backs out of the backfield. A healthy Jacobs will give him a safe option who can turn short passes into huge gains.
4. Chris Allen, Edge
Despite being a true freshman, Allen has found his way into the rotation at outside linebacker. While he hasn’t managed even one tackle, he has made his presence felt — including a quarterback pressure against Fresno State.
As personnel losses mount, the Tide needs Allen to continue to build on his solid debut. The secondary is one of the best in the country, but like with most defensive backfields, they’re at their best when the front seven is consistently generating pressure on quarterbacks.
Rashaan Evans and Anfernee Jennings should be back soon, but Allen could end up being the X-factor in this group before all is said and done.
5. Jedrick Wills, OT
Wills is the type of player who might fly under the radar, but he could end up playing a major part in Alabama’s success later this season. The offensive line hasn’t done as well as many had predicted, but it’s not like they’ve played terrible, either.
“So-so” sounds about right.
Jonah Williams has been decent during his transition to left tackle, but he’s still adjusting to his technique being the exact opposite from what it was last year. On the right side, Lester Cotton and Matt Womack have both been inconsistent, even though Womack recently won Lineman of the Week for the SEC.
If Cotton continues to struggle with consistency, we could see Womack make the move to right guard with Wills being inserted at right tackle. On the flip side, if Womack doesn’t continue to build on his performance against Fresno State, then we could see him removed from the lineup all together in favor of Wills.
At the very least, Alabama needs Wills to emerge as a solid rotational piece on that right side to help provide the depth necessary to compete in the SEC.