The offense of the Alabama Crimson Tide needed a hard reset. Many in Tide Nation were relieved when Bill O’Brien took the offensive coordinator job for the New England Patriots after two good, but underwhelming seasons. Statistically, Alabama was one of the top offenses in the nation but it failed expectations in the big moments despite having the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young. Head coach Nick Saban believes that a hard reset was found with the hiring of Notre Dame Offensive Coordinator Tommy Rees at the same position for Alabama.
At only 30 years old, Rees has accomplished a lot in three years as offensive coordinator for the Fighting Irish. He created several NFL draft prospects, a well-balanced and powerful offense, and is a stellar recruiter. There are elements to coach Rees’ offense that draws similarities to the offenses that Alabama had from 2008 to 2013 under offensive coordinators Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier. During that span, Alabama won three National Championships. The offense played a significant factor in being well-balanced and dominant in the trenches. While Rees isn’t a groundbreaking hire as opposed to coaches like Kliff Kingsbury or Garrett Riley, he is a coach that brings back some attributes to the Tide’s offense that many Alabama fans will be pleased with. Here are three changes to expect with Rees at Alabama.
Three Changes to Expect with Tommy Rees at Alabama
A More Established Run Game
Rees likes to utilize a combination of old-school offense with an RPO-style attack at certain points of the game. More specifically, Rees likes to run the ball in between the tackles or just off the tackles. Kyren Williams rushed for 2,127 yards and 27 touchdowns on 415 carries in the last two seasons under Rees. He did this behind a stout offensive line at Notre Dame. In 2021, Notre Dame called just nine more passing plays than rushing as Williams and quarterback Jack Coan were well-balanced. In 2020, Rees called 138 more run plays despite having veteran Ian Book as the quarterback. This past season, Notre Dame ran the ball 519 times as opposed to throwing the ball 338 times.
Under O’Brien in the 2021 season, Alabama called for 571 passing plays and 542 rushing plays. Brian Robinson Jr. was a fantastic playmaker. He rushed for 1,343 yards and 14 touchdowns on 271 carries. This past season, Alabama threw the ball 438 times as opposed to rushing the ball 448 times. O’Brien often underutilized Jahmyr Gibbs and arguably relied too much on the arm of Young throwing to mostly unproven wide receivers. This is evident with only 280 completions from a talented quarterback position.
With Rees, there should be likely a more well-balanced offense where the running backs are utilized more effectively as opposed to last year for Alabama where the running back was mostly an extra pass-catcher in the backfield. In 2022, Gibbs was the leading rusher and leading receiver for the Tide. He led Alabama with 44 receptions, averaging 10.1 yards per reception. While getting the running backs involved is important, there could be a more effective way to do so, which fans will likely see in 2023 under Rees.
A Rise In 12-personnel for Alabama
One area that should excite Tide Nation and bring a balance to the offense is the utilization of tight ends. Notre Dame is a place where tight ends thrive, and Rees took advantage of that. In 2020, two of the top leaders in receivers for the Fighting Irish were tight ends. For the past two seasons, tight end Michael Mayer, a potential first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, was the leading receiver for the Fighting Irish.
Alabama hasn’t had a tight end account for over 410 receiving yards in a season since Irv Smith Jr. (710 yards) in 2018. It is a team that likes to spread the ball throughout the field in the passing game. Alabama’s offense has been more aggressive in deep passing plays in the past few seasons. The offense thrived with players like DeVonta Smith and Jameson Williams in 2019 and 2020 but struggled with unproven receivers this past season. The only short-to-mid-range passing plays that were efficient for the Tide, outside of the constant screens to receivers, were passes to Cameron Latu. He had some good moments, but he never had the chance to flourish under O’Brien’s offense.
Under Rees, Alabama can establish some solid short-to-mid-range passing schemes with multiple tight-end sets. They will also contribute to the running game and provide support for the offensive line. One player that will benefit in a tight end friendly offense is Maryland Terrapins transfer C.J. Dippre. Dippre caught 30 receptions for 314 yards and three touchdowns under head coach Mike Locksley’s offense this past season. Locksley was the offensive coordinator for the Tide in 2018 with Smith as one of the key playmakers.
More Player Development
One of the biggest criticisms that O’Brien was noted for at Alabama was the lack of player development. While Young turned into a star, the best players for the Tide’s offense were either transfers or players who were already developed before the arrival of O’Brien. An example of the lack of development was in the 2022 National Championship game against Georgia. Wide receiver John Metchie was already out, and Williams suffered a torn ACL. Agiye Hall, Ja’Corey Brooks, and Traeshon Holden were not ready to take the bulk of the receiver snaps, leaving Latu to carry the passing game. Rees got the most out of his receivers at Notre Dame despite the fact that elite names are not as prominent as they are at Alabama.
There was a big concern with the development of the offensive line as well. The Tide has had an offensive lineman drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft since 2019. Evan Neal (a three-year starter) has been the only o-line coached by O’Brien drafted out of Alabama. Emil Ekiyor Jr. projects to be the highest offensive lineman for Alabama drafted this the 2023 NFL Draft. CBS Sports ranks Ekiyor as the 108th-rated overall prospect.
This past season, Alabama’s offensive line gave up 22 sacks. In 2021, the offensive line allowed 41 sacks. There have been several times this past season that Young escaped pressure to avoid a sack. Alabama’s offensive line allowed a combined 47 sacks in the three seasons before O’Brien arrived in Tuscaloosa. Rees will get the chance to develop highly talented and raw offensive linemen in his balanced offense. Alabama’s offensive line should see a rise.
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