Every season has its memorable moments and game-changing performances, so we’re counting down the 25 most important figures within or around the Crimson Tide program (or foes) who will determine whether Alabama’s upcoming season is a success.
The noise surrounding O.J. Howard and his perceived lack of touches grew louder and louder among fans as the season progressed. It reached its peak in late November, when he followed a 52-yard catch-and-run touchdown against LSU with just three catches for 44 yards over the final three games.
Why wasn’t Alabama getting the ball more to its talented freshman tight end?
Howard, a former five-star prospect from Prattville, wasn’t among those miffed at his lack of opportunities.
“I was just coming in,” Howard said in April. “I really didn’t know how to block as well as I’m learning to block now. I played my role and I did what the team needed.”
In 2014, Alabama may just need Howard to be a bigger fixture in its passing game.
A nightmare of a matchup for opposing linebackers, Howard is bigger, smarter and more comfortable as a blocker. He’s also playing in an offense coordinated by Lane Kiffin, who loves to feed the ball to his top athletes and has typically featured a tight end who piles up bigger numbers than the 14 receptions, 269 yards and two touchdowns Howard accumulated in 2013.
How quickly Howard develops a bond with whomever wins Alabama’s starting quarterback battle will be vital. A reliable tight end can be a new quarterback’s best friend, especially in the red zone. Though he was almost exclusively used as a blocker, former Alabama tight end Michael Williams hauled in a number of touchdowns thanks to the trust he established with AJ McCarron.
In his only interview of the spring, Howard, who did not catch a pass at A-Day, talked excitedly about his role within the offense.
“This offense is tight end friendly,” Howard said. “He’s got some plays in there for us to get us the ball in space and show our athletic ability off.”
Howard’s biggest fans are hoping those plays are executed early and often.