TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Nothing is set in stone until kickoff, but the picture of the 2022 Alabama football team has been painted a little clearer with the release of the depth chart Monday ahead of the Crimson Tide's season opener against Utah State.
For the fourth year in a row, there was no major competition at quarterback with Bryce Young returning for year two as the stater. Alabama also has a deep stable of running backs with transfer Jahmyr Gibbs leading the way. Scattered all throughout the defense are key returning starters like Will Anderson Jr., Henry To'oTo'o and Jordan Battle.
Because of all the players coming back and hints dropped by coaches and players throughout the fall and spring, there were no major surprises. Despite the apparent stability, here's five things we learned from the reveal of Alabama's depth chart:
1. Not a lot of "ors"
In his second season as head coach of the Crimson Tide back in 2008, Saban went on a pretty famous rant about the meaning of "or" on the depth chart. This year, the football program used slashes instead of "ors," but there were very few even of those.
Throughout fall camp, Saban has repeatedly mentioned his frustration with younger players and backups, asking for more guys who will "play winning football." And it shows on the depth chart.
Players have been given the opportunity to prove their worth and earn a spot on the depth chart, and it appears that the Crimson Tide has a pretty defined first and second string at most positions. In fact, there were only nine total slashes on the entire depth chart, and three of those came at return positions on special teams.
"We're just trying to get as many guys to play winning football as we possibly can," Saban said. "So there's a lot of competition on our team right now, which I think really helps you develop the kind of depth that you need on the team, because guys are out there every day working hard. I think one of the things we've tried to emphasize to our players is, whether you're going to start or be a backup, you've got to prepare yourself to be ready to go when you get your opportunity."
This doesn't mean players won't have the opportunity to work their way back up (or slide down) the depth chart, especially when injuries inevitably hit throughout the season. But for now, those listed on the two-deep are ready to play winning football.
2. Offensive line is settled
One of the two biggest question marks or position battles heading into fall camp was at the center position on the offensive line. Darrian Dalcourt started 11 games at center last season before going down with an injury. Seth McLaughlin, who was a redshirt freshman at the time, stepped into to replace Dalcourt for the final few games of the season. Dalcourt has returned to full health and reclaimed the starting job at center.
Due to extensive injury issues throughout the spring, Alabama was having to piece together whatever combinations it could get for a full first and second string offensive line. Now with some injury problems resolved and help from the transfer portal in Tyler Steen, the Crimson Tide now has its starting five for the offensive line.
There are some possible surprises, but no more question marks left at the position. Alabama brings back continuity and experience with Dalcourt at center and redshirt senior Emil Ekiyor Jr. at right guard. As mentioned, Steen transferred in from Vanderbilt and earned the starting left tackle job. After spending the past five seasons as a backup switching back and forth between tight end and offensive line, Kendall Randolph gets the starting nod at left guard, and true sophomore JC Latham has impressed at camp to earn the starting job at right tackle.
New offensive line coach Eric Wolford has earned high praise from coaches and players alike since his arrival in Tuscaloosa, and the nation's top returning defensive player Anderson is impressed with the unit he goes up against every day in practice.
"He has tremendous energy and what he brings to that room is something I think they needed," Anderson said. "And it’s been really great. You can see the improvement. They’ve been doing a really good job of getting us better."
3. However, cornerback still isn't settled
Cornerback is the only position on the entire depth chart with co-starters listed at both possible slots. Sophomore Kool-Aid McKinstry and LSU transfer Eli Ricks are listed as co-starters for one, and senior Khyree Jackson and redshirt freshman Terrion Arnold are listed as co-starters at the other. Jahquez Robinson was listed as the backup for Arnold and Jackson.
Saban has been sticking to the company line throughout fall camp that there are no definite starters at the position as evidenced by Monday's depth chart. However, he has been high on Arnold and impressed with the work he's put in to improve between year one and year two in the program.
"Consistency in performance at any position is really important, but especially at the cornerback position where you really got to focus because there’s gonna be five or six plays in the game that you’re gonna have to make, but those five or six plays are going to be critical plays in the game," Saban said. "They’ll probably end up either being big plays or incompletions."
4. Latu's absence has allowed young TEs to get valuable reps
Even though this will be the only official depth chart passed out by Alabama this season, no currently injured players were listed. This means no JoJo Earle at wide receiver or Cameron Latu at tight end even though both guys sounded like they had locked up starting spots prior to injury.
Saban said Latu would return to practice on Monday and begin running through dry-land drills. But his unavailability due to the injury has been beneficial for an unexperienced tight end group.
"I think the good news is because we have three young players at the position, they have gotten a ton of reps and made significant progress because of the ton of reps they’ve got in his absence," Saban said. "Robbie Ouzts has done a really good job at the position, but all three young guys have made significant progress and they’ll probably have some role in this game."
Ouzts was listed as the starter, and is only other returning tight end besides Latu with a reception last season. Two true freshmen, plus junior college transfer Miles Kistelman are also available at the position. And the opening game against Utah State should present the opportunity for these younger guys to get in-game reps as well while waiting on the return of Latu.
5. Freshmen phenoms
OK, maybe the word phenom is a little too strong of a word to use before a player has taken a single snap, but it's still a big deal for a true freshman to be listed on Alabama's official depth chart. Two players earned that honor this year: Kobe Prentice at wide receiver and Jaheim Oatis as co-starter at nose guard alongside senior DJ Dale.
Oatis' weight loss has been well-documented throughout fall camp, and Monday, Saban talked about much of a challenge he is to block. With Prentice, the Alabama quarterback has been impressed with his work ethic.
"He's worked hard," Young said about Prentice. "He's been able to make some dynamic plays for us in practice and in the scrimmages, and he's obviously worked his way up to the depth chart. I think it's just that willingness to work. He comes into in every day with a super great attitude, great mindset."
Eight other true freshmen were listed on the depth chart as backups with Tyler Booker as the second-team right guard, and Jihaad Campbell (ILB), Danny Lewis (TE), Amari Niblack (TE), Ty Simpson (QB), and wide receivers Kendrick Law, Isaiah Bond and Emmanuel Henderson all listed as third team. Several redshirt freshmen like Arnold and Deontae Lawson also made appearances on the depth chart.
Like usual under Saban, there will be no shortage of young talent when Alabama takes the field this season.