TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Heading into the 2021 college football season, junior Alabama tight end Jahleel Billingsley was widely expected to start at his position for the Crimson Tide.
However, things didn't quite turn out that way. Following COVID-19 protocols that forced him to miss the first several practices of fall camp in August, Billingsley ultimately ended up third on the depth chart heading into the team's first game of the season.
On Saturday in the Crimson Tide's season opener against Miami in Atlanta, redshirt-junior Cameron Latu was given the start at tight end. After the game ended, Billingsley did not make a single reception on the day.
During the game, a shared moment between Alabama coach Nick Saban and Billingsley was seen on the sidelines, with Saban seemingly giving Billingsley a teaching moment. Later that evening, Billingsley's father, Charles, shared the moment on Twitter with the caption "Awesome picture."
During his Monday press conference, Saban explained the meaning behind the photograph.
"We’re just always trying to encourage players to do the right things and do the things they need to do to create value for themselves," Saban said. "Jahleel and I have talked on several occasions because he’s certainly a guy that we want to have success for his own benefit individually as well as for the team. Sometimes when you get a little external encouragement it can be a positive thing for you.
"I think for the first game he did OK when he went out there and played."
Regarding the other two tight ends utilized in the game, Latu was dynamic on the field. By the end of the first half, Latu had reeled in two receptions — both of them touchdowns. Latu finished the day with three total receptions for 43 yards to accompany the two scores.
While Kendall Randolph was unable to register a reception, the redshirt senior was utilized primarily as a blocking tight end. Coming off of an ankle sprain, Randolph looked to be fully recovered from his injury and did not seem to show any signs of fatigue.
Saban praised both Latu and Randolph for their contributions against Miami.
"Cameron Latu certainly did a good job," Saban said. "He didn't have a lot of experience. I think passes that he caught, he made some really good catches. He made a good run after a catch, scored a couple of touchdowns. Did a good job of execution. Played his position fairly well. So this is a real positive for us at that position.
"We've always liked using Kendall as a tight end type of blocker and I thought he did a really good job in the game, especially with the fact that he was coming off of an ankle sprain."
Saban finished his statement by noting that the three primary tight ends will need to continue to develop in order to increase their playing time.
"We'll continue to try to develop players at that position, and hopefully they'll make the decision to do the things they need to do to improve, and that will reflect in how much playing time they get," Saban said.