Alabama depth chart observations, surprises and notes

The unrecognized holiday came and went Monday with the gift coming in a stack of papers distributed minutes before Nick Saban’s Week 1 news conference.

Depth chart day was back in a physical form after the past two seasons of video conferencing and the media room celebration was rabid as ever. We devoured every name, slash between names and freshman names.

Given a few hours to come down from that rush and nurse the depth chart day hangover, we had a few observations to bring some context to the initial document.

First a few raw numbers.

— Four of the five Power 5 transfers were listed as starters or co-starters. Only receiver Tyler Harrell, previously of Louisville, was not on the top line of the depth chart. He was the second-team X-receiver behind Georgia transfer Jermaine Burton. Cornerback Eli Ricks was listed as the co-starter at one of the two cornerback spots along with Kool-Aid McKinstry.

— There were 10 true freshmen who were listed on the first, second or third teams.

— Of those, two were top-line starters. Defensive lineman Jahiem Oatis was co-starter at nose guard along with senior DJ Dale. And receiver Kobe Prentice of Calera was the starting slot receiver over co-backups Christian Leary and Emmanuel Henderson (also a freshman from Geneva County.

The other freshmen:

  • Middle LB Jihaad Campbell (third-team Will)
  • OL Tyler Booker (second-team right guard)
  • Tight end Danny Lewis (second team)
  • Tight end Amari Niblack (second team)
  • WR Kendrick Law (third-team Z)
  • WR Isaiah Bond (third-team X)
  • WR Emmanuel Henderson (co-third-team H)
  • QB Ty Simpson (third team)

Any depth chart surprises?

It’s hard to say there were any stunners but a few caught the eye.

Sophomore Ja’Corey Brooks has been getting his share of preseason praise from Saban but he was listed as the second-team Z-receiver behind Traeshon Holden. That comes after Holden, a junior had a big performance in the second of two August scrimmages.

“I’ve just seen steady growth,” quarterback Bryce Young said of Holden. “He’s been working really, really hard. Someone who worked hard throughout his time here. It hasn’t been his time the last few years, but not everyone’s seeing what’s going on throughout the week, but the last two years he’s been here he’s been working day in and day out. He’s grown feels like every practice. And then in the offseason, he’s been taking really a leadership role and being the guy who has been here the longest, knowing all this stuff.”

Saban was still high on Brooks when discussing his role with the kickoff return team.

“I like his spirit, I like his energy, I like the way he works every day,” Saban said. “And he’s had a really good fall camp. Whatever role we’ve asked him to be in — whether it’s special teams, being a starter at receiver, he’s always responded in a really positive way and done a good job.”

Other notables:

  • Kendall Randolph is the starting left guard entering his sixth season. He’s started 13 games, all at tight end, while also getting playing time at tackle.
  • Junior Jahquez Robinson was the only other cornerback listed outside the four co-starters. The Jacksonville product’s only action in two seasons was special teams duty last year against Mercer. Saban mentioned his name early in camp as someone who impressed.
  • Junior Jamil Burroughs had a lot of offseason chatter at defensive end but he was listed as the backup to Tim Smith. Linebacker Will Anderson on Monday listed Burroughs as a defensive lineman who has been a factor rushing the passer.
  • Just the fact Oatis is a co-starter with a senior member of the leadership council in Dale is notable. “Well, look, the first thing about being a good defensive lineman at whatever position you play is you need to be hard to block,” Saban said of Oatis. “So if I was gonna say something simple without getting too technical, I would say he was hard to block.”

A few other notes

— There hasn’t really been a quarterback competition since Tua Tagovailoa beat Jalen Hurts for the job in 2018. There were no slashes this year with Jalen Milroe as the solid No. 2 behind Bryce Young with freshman Ty Simpson as the only other scholarship passer listed third.

— It was clear for a while Jahmyr Gibbs would be the next starting running back with Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams the co-No. 2. Saban said they were confident with five running backs as contributors even though four were listed. Trey Sanders was the only name on the third team while Jamarion Miller is a true freshman who was enrolled for spring practice.

— The other highly touted true freshman RB is now at receiver as previously mentioned. Henderson was a five-star coming out of Hartford, Alabama who has been getting time with the slot receivers.

— A few other freshmen made the depth chart at receiver with Kendrick Law listed as the third-team Z and Isaiah Bond listed third at the X behind Burton and Harrell.

— While Chris Braswell is listed as the backup to Will Anderson at Jack linebacker, Anderson hinted there could be pass-rush situations where Braswell would join him and Dallas Turner.

— The highly-trusted role of punt returner went to Kool-Aid McKinstry. He didn’t return any punts last year as a true freshman. Backing him up are Jermaine Burton and Brian Branch. Neither returned punts previously but you have to assume JoJo Earle will factor into this equation when he returns from injury at some time late in September or early October.

— Gibbs will be the main kickoff returner. He took one back for a score last season with Georgia Tech.

Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.

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