O.J. Howard came to the Alabama Crimson Tide as one of the top tight end recruits in the nation and a player build like he could be playing on Sunday’s prior to even playing a snap in college, but after playing a small role as a freshman is ready to explode onto the national scene with a big sophomore campaign.
The 6-6, 240-pound tight end with the speed of a wide receiver was limited to 14 receptions for 269 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman but flashed immense potential with a 52-yard touchdown against the LSU Tigers that breathed life into the Tide’s offense.
After a season of learning on the fly and experiencing some growing pains, Howard’s second spring game on Saturday should reflect the development of Howard who should play a vital role in the passing attack this season with a new quarterback under center.
“Last spring, I came in early,” Howard tells ESPN.com’s Greg Ostendorf. “I was a new guy. I wasn’t playing fast because I didn’t really know what to do yet. Now I know what to do, and when you know what to do, you’re going to play really fast. It makes the game a lot easier.”
Running and catching has always looked easy for Howard, but it’s the nuances of the position and especially blocking that hasn’t always come easy for Howard. Considering the fact that Alabama is a run-first team that relies on its tight ends to be willing and capable blockers, that limited the snaps for Howard who had to make serious inroads in that aspect of his game.
Head coach Nick Saban is confident Howard will take the next step in his game to become more than a receiving tight end and be a complete player.
“O.J. is a very talented guy,” Saban said. “I think he needs to continue to improve in some areas because he’s a great pass receiver, but we continue to work on trying to improve him as a blocker and get him to pay attention to detail and the importance of that part of the game as well.”
With Lane Kiffin running the offense in Tuscaloosa this season look for him to be creative in how he uses Howard who can line up as your base tight end, flexed out or split wide on the perimeter. He’s that talented.
Saturday could serve as the coming out party for Howard who teased Alabama with his potential last season and this year should be a weekly staple of the Crimson Tide offense and a player who could find himself on some All-SEC teams come winter.