Alabama football: Young players getting plenty of reps as Tide looks to replace offensive firepower

Teddy Couch

Alabama’s offense is losing a lot of firepower to the NFL draft in April.

With so many new faces on the field during spring practice, head coach Nick Saban said it’s a similar process to what the team went through last season defensively.

“We had like eight new starters, four new guys out of five in the secondary and it’s going to be that way, especially this spring with Emil (Ekiyor Jr.) out and (receiver John) Metchie (III) out,” Saban said. “Those are two significant returners that really won’t be there.”

Ekiyor and Evan Neal are the lone returners on the offensive line, but Neal is the only one participating in the spring. Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Mac Jones, Najee Harris and Miller Forristall are all gone along the skill positions.

With Metchie out, the Tide’s leading receiver on the field is tight end Jaheel Billingsley, who had 287 yards and three touchdowns on 18 receptions.

That means a lot of reps for young players.

“It’s great for the young guys to get experience at receiver,” Saban said. “We are just going to try to develop those guys one day at a time.”

Of Alabama’s three quarterbacks, Saban said Bryce Young is ahead of the group with the reps he received last season.

“Even though he didn’t get to play that much, he got a lot of reps in practice,” Saban said. “There’s a lot of good carryover for him. I think he’s very confident and he’s done a really good job of preparing so far.”

Brian Robinson Jr. is back for his fifth season with the Tide and is the most experienced player in a young backfield. Saban said Robinson’s decision showed a lot about his maturity and understanding that if he came back, more opportunities would come his way.

“When he did play last year, he played extremely well for us,” Saban said. “I was extremely pleased. It really wasn’t his fault. Najee was one of those guys that the more he played and ran the ball, the better he got. He wasn’t one of those guys you wanted to take out of the game all the time. … That probably affected B-Rob’s playing time a little bit, but it wasn’t his fault.”

The focus this spring for Saban is to see improvement, one day at a time.

“It’s going to be a work in progress, no doubt, but that’s why we’re practicing,” Saban said.