Where things stand with Alabama's top preseason position battles

Alabama has completed two full weeks of preseason practices, including two scrimmages, and with one week to go until the first game week of the Crimson Tide’s 2021 football season, we take a look at where things stand with Alabama’s top position battles after 16 practices.


Since the spring, Kendall Randolph had manned the right tackle spot on Alabama’s first-team offensive line. Others received reps, but it was primarily the redshirt senior that worked with the ones. That is until the Tide’s first scrimmage more than a week ago where Randolph sprained his ankle and hasn’t returned to the field since. In his place has been freshman JC Latham, while players like Damieon George and Pierce Quick have also earned reps at right tackle. It looks like the freshman is the top available option there as competition continues.

However, right tackle isn’t the only position battle along Alabama’s offensive line. Head coach Nick Saban, after Saturday’s scrimmage, mentioned center as a spot that remains for grabs. It seemed as if super senior Chris Owens returned to fill that hole in the starting lineup, but that doesn’t appear to be as set in stone as we thought. Owens missed UA’s first scrimmage, and although it won’t be shocking if he holds onto the role, his top competition is likely junior Darrian Dalcourt. Seth McLaughlin and James Brockermeyer have also worked at center.

“We’ve got work to do,” Saban said of the offensive line as a whole. “I think there’s some competition at several positions. There’s some competition at right tackle, there’s some competition at center. Evan Neal and Emil are both good. We held Emil out today. But I think we’ve got work to do, especially in that group playing together and getting confidence in the calls and especially in pass protection and so forth. But I’m confident that they’re going to make the kind of progress -- I saw a lot of improvement from Week 1 to Week 2.”


The Tide returns two players with starting experience, leaving one first-team spot to fill, as well as rotational roles on the first-team offense. UA has several options, though most of them inexperienced, to choose from, but one of its newest additions looks to be separating himself in Jameson Williams. The Ohio State transfer has stood out this preseason, with Saban saying he could be “a featured guy.” Another name on the rise is true freshman JoJo Earle, who could be a factor on offense and in the return game. Really, all of the scholarship receivers are worth mentioning here, but Williams and Earle are guys that have generated a lot of buzz lately.


Much like the receiver position, and really even more convincingly, the vacancy at inside linebacker looks to be taken by another transfer. Henry To’o To’o joined the program earlier this summer and has quickly established himself as not only a solid player but a leader on and off the field. To’o To’o started both scrimmages at the Mike linebacker position, which is commonly referred to as the quarterback of the defense, and that has allowed Christian Harris to play a “more natural position.” To’o To’o will continue to be pushed by senior Jaylen Moody and others, but he appears to be settling into the signal-caller role on UA’s defense.


Similar to the battle at right tackle, a veteran player has consistently lined up at the cornerback position opposite Josh Jobe since the spring slate. Jalyn Armour-Davis has earned the majority of the first-team snaps throughout the offseason, including fall camp. Brian Branch briefly worked with the corners and even received a few first-team reps, but he’s since rejoined the safeties. There are other young players that have shown promise, including Marcus Banks, Kool-Aid McKinstry and Terrion Arnold, but Armour-Davis has stood firm. If the season opener against Miami was scheduled for tonight, he would most likely get the starting nod.


Alabama added two punters this offseason in Troy transfer Jack Martin and James Burnip from Australia. Both players, along with returning walk-on Ty Perine, punted in the first scrimmage, but it was Burnip and Perine that handled punting responsibilities this past Saturday, with Burnip having the better day of the two, while Martin stuck to field goals and kickoffs. Those three, along with Sam Johnson, are the only punters currently on the Tide’s roster, and Saban wants to see more consistency from that group this season. Exiting the final scrimmage of the preseason, it sounds as if Burnip is the leader in the clubhouse to punt in the opener.

“He has punted a football before, aight, so he didn’t come from the rugby field, from the rugby ball to the football,” Saban said of Burnip. “He’s been punting footballs for quite a long time. And really, we’re not asking him to play football, we’re asking him to punt it. And he did a pretty good job of that (in the first scrimmage). And I’m sure that being a young guy as he gets more comfortable, more experienced and more confident, he’ll even do better probably from a consistency standpoint.”

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Contact Charlie Potter by personal message or on Twitter (@Charlie_Potter).