TUSCALOOSA – As is the annual tradition, Alabama’s initial depth chart of the season was released minutes before head coach Nick Saban’s first official press conference of the regular season Monday.
And as usual, there were quite a few positions still up for grabs.
With the second-ranked Crimson Tide set to square off against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic at 2:30 p.m. Saturday from Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, fans and media were given a first glimpse at what Alabama’s starting lineup could look like in the game.
Of course, there were plenty of givens, like returning Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa is the unquestioned starting quarterback – and apparently first-team holder on special teams – and the trio of juniors at receiver will once again be his top targets this season, though even that came with a caveat as reigning Biletnikof Award winner Jerry Jeudy had an unfamiliar “/” beside his name, indicating his status as a co-starter as the team’s “Z” or slot-receiver alongside sophomore Jaylen Waddle.
As is the case every year, Alabama’s depth chart featured an array of starting options, with nine different first-team positions featuring the “/” to indicate “or,” including at three spots within both the offensive line and secondary. While returning starters Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills Jr. have long been penciled in as starters, the three interior positions remain in flux with five players still in contention, according to Saban.
But arguably some of the biggest oddities came on defense, where the Crimson Tide is set to start not one but two true freshmen with D.J. Dale and Christian Harris slated as the first-team nose guard and Will linebacker. Of course, they’ll pair with a host of returning veterans that will be starting for the second straight season, including senior defensive end Raekwon Davis, senior outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings, senior cornerback Trevon Diggs, and junior safety Xavier McKinney.
With that in mind, here’s a look at how Alabama’s Week 1 depth chart shapes out, and what it could mean heading into the regular season:
1. Tua Tagovailoa
2. Mac Jones
3. Taulia Tagovailoa
Outlook: For the first time in a long time, Alabama didn’t have a question about it starting quarterback, with last season’s Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa returning after setting multiple program passing marks with 3,966 yards and 43 touchdowns. Tagovailoa’s 199.44 passer rating last year set an NCAA record for efficiency while completing 245-of-355 passes (69 percent). His backup was seemingly up for debate this offseason, but experienced sophomore Mac Jones did more than enough to hold off a challenge from Tagovailoa’s little brother, Taulia Tagovailoa, and fellow four-star early enrollee Paul Tyson. That said, given he was the only other quarterback listed, the younger Tagovailoa should still get some quality reps during non-conference play to further his development.
1. Najee Harris
2. Brian Robinson Jr.
3. Jerome Ford OR Keilan Robinson OR Chadarius Townsend
Outlook: It’s finally Najee’s time. After two years of somewhat-patiently waiting his turn, Najee Harris assumes lead duties in Alabama’s always-loaded backfield. Of course, after a preseason injury to five-star freshman Trey Sanders, that backfield might not be as deep as it’s been in the past few years. Behind Harris will be fellow junior Brian Robinson Jr., who’s downhill running style compliments Harris’ explosive style well, and could make the Tuscaloosa native a key goal-line option this season. The team’s No. 3 or change-of-pace ‘back remains a bit of a question mark between redshirt freshman Jerome Ford, true freshman Keilan Robinson or sophomore Chadarius Townsend, a converted receiver.
1. Henry Ruggs III
2. John Metchie
1. DeVonta Smith
2. Tyrell Shavers
3. Xavier Williams
1. Jerry Jeudy OR Jaylen Waddle
2. Slade Bolden
Outlook: With all three starting receivers returning, including Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy, there’s not much change here. Except the slight addendum that Jeudy is listed as a co-starter with sophomore sensation Jaylen Waddle. Try not to read too much into that though, except that it’s just another indication that the team will attempt more four-wide sets this season, with both Jeudy and Waddle manning two inside slot receiver spots. And rightfully so after Waddle proved himself by with 848 receiving yards last season, second only to Jeudy’s team-leading 1,315 and 14 touchdowns. Smith and Ruggs will once again work the edges, putting their sharp footwork and speed to good use, and give the Tide a dynamic four-receiver set that could be quite fearsome this season.
1. Miller Forristall
2. Major Tennison
3. Cameron Latu OR Giles Amos
Outlook: For the first time in several years, Alabama’s tight end position is not split up into two, incorporating the previously designated H-back role into the traditional tight end spot on the depth chart. That move is indicative of two things: first, that the Tide lack quality depth at the position, and second, that there may not be a true receiving H-back option in the mix this season after last year’s H-back, Irv Smith Jr., opted for the NFL after his breakout junior campaign. Forristall, a redshirt junior, has the experience and is both a quality blocker and receiver, but might not necessarily be exceptional at either. Tennison is a redshirt sophomore who is much in the same mold, but has proven himself to be a capable in-line blocker at the position. If Latu can continue to develop after converting from linebacker this offseason, his natural athleticism could come in handy down the line.
1. Alex Leatherwood
2. Scott Lashley
1. Emil Ekiyor Jr. OR Evan Neal
2. Deonte Brown
1. Chris Owens OR Landon Dickerson
2. Darrian Dalcourt
1. Landon Dickerson OR Matt Womack
2. Kendall Randolph
1. Jedrick Wills Jr.
2. Matt Womack
3. Tommy Brown OR Pierce Quick
Outlook: The two certainties along Alabama’s front line this offseason were its two anchors on the outside – right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. and left tackle Alex Leatherwood. Meanwhile, the three interior spots apparently remain somewhat up for grabs with five players seemingly in the running based on the team’s initial depth chart. Redshirt freshman Emil Ekiyor Jr. and five-star freshman Evan Neal remain in competition at left guard, while redshirt junior transfer Landon Dickerson is in contention to start at either center or right guard. Redshirt junior Chris Owens has long been the favorite to start at center, but Dickerson’s proven more than capable and creates some flexibility up front, especially if fifth-year senior Matt Womack can make the transition to guard. Either way, it’s clear Alabama has options.
1. Raekwon Davis
2. Phidarian Mathis
1. D.J. Dale
2. Stephon Wynn Jr. OR Tevita Musika
1. LaBryan Ray
2. Justin Eboigbe OR Byron Young
Outlook: While not much of a shock to anyone that’s been paying attention this offseason, Alabama starting true freshman D.J. Dale at nose guard means as much about his potential as it does the team’s lack of quality depth at the position. Dale is a talented prospect who has already been compared to former Tide first-round pick Daron Payne, but it remains to be seen if he can affect a game like his predecessor, No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams. Alabama will feature two veterans at either end spot, including returning starter Raekwon Davis and former five-star product LaBryan Ray, both of whom have been mainstays in the line rotation throughout their time in Tuscaloosa. But beyond the first grouping, the Tide could be in for some trouble should any starter go down, with a pair of little-used interior linemen and two true freshmen as their backups.
1. Terrell Lewis
2. Christopher Allen
1. Dylan Moses
2. Shane Lee OR Markail Benton
1. Christian Harris
2. Jaylen Moody OR Ale Kaho
1. Anfernee Jennings
2. Ben Davis OR King Mwikuta
Outlook: The biggest takeaway is Alabama’s starting another true freshman on defense as talented but raw linebacker Christian Harris is getting the call as the first-team Wll, lining up beside fellow Baton Rouge, Louisiana native Dylan Moses in the heart of the Tide defense. Harris has the natural athleticism and coverage ability necessary for the Will spot, but will be learning as he goes in his first year at the position. Moses is as steady as they come and should be able to provide quality guidance having gone through a similar situation when he started two games as a true freshman in 2017. On the outside, Terrell Lewis and Chris Allen return after a year off following ACL surgery, while senior Anfernee Jennings is the grandfather of the relatively experienced group and should stabilize the team’s pass-rush unit as a whole. Along with Harris, look for fellow freshmen Shane Lee and King Mwikuta to also get opportunities to shine this season.
1. Trevon Diggs
2. Jayln Armour-Davis OR Scooby Carter
1. Patrick Surtain II OR Josh Jobe
2. Marcus Banks
1. Xavier McKinney
2. Daniel Wright OR Jordan Battle
1. Shyheim Carter OR Jared Mayden
2. DeMarcco Hellams
1. Shyheim Carter OR Patrick Surtain II
2. Jayln Armour-Davis
Outlook: With four of five returning starters, Alabama’s secondary is arguably one of the team’s strengths this season after being a bit of a liability last year. That’s in part to the healthy return of seniors Trevon Diggs and Shyheim Carter, as well as junior field general Xavier McKinney and sophomore talents Josh Jobe and Patrick Surtain II. As evident by all the “ORs,” expect some movement in the secondary this season, with Surtain an option at both corner and Star, and Carter moving between free safety and Star depending on the situation. Fellow senior Jared Mayden is also in the running at free safety and could be a mainstay when Alabama is in both dime and nickel formations. Keep an eye out for a couple of talented freshmen to play roles this season, including safeties Jordan Battle and DeMarcco Hellams, as well as corners Marcus Banks and Scooby Carter.
1. Will Reichard
2. Joseph Bulovas
1. Skyler DeLong OR Will Reichard
1. Tua Tagovailoa
2. Mac Jones
1. Thomas Fletcher
1. Jaylen Waddle
2. Trevon Diggs
1. Henry Ruggs III OR Trevon Diggs
2. Jaylen Waddle
3. Brian Robinson Jr. AND Najee Harris
Outlook: No surprise here, true freshman Will Reichard has won place kicking duties over sophomore Joseph Bulovas. Reichard’s been the most consistent of the two throughout both spring and preseason practice, and shows the best potential to solve Alabama’s notorious kicking issues. Reichard has also proven he can punt quite well and could challenge DeLong to handle those duties as well. Junior Thomas Fletcher returns as the team’s deep snapper while starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will seemingly handle holding duties on extra points and extra points. The explosive trio of Jaylen Waddle, Henry Ruggs III and Trevon Diggs will once again be shouldering much of the return duties, with Waddle looking to build off last year’s punt return average of 14.6, which ranked second in the SEC and fifth nationally.