Alabama Football: Important Positions to watch in the Sugar Bowl

Sep 17, 2022; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Isaiah Bond (17) carries the ball against the UL Monroe Warhawks during the second half at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 17, 2022; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Isaiah Bond (17) carries the ball against the UL Monroe Warhawks during the second half at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports /

Now that Alabama football has a better grasp on what players it will have available for the Sugar Bowl matchup against Kansas State, we can begin to break down what could transpire on the field.

The Crimson Tide are not expecting any opt outs, but have taken several transfer portal losses that will open up opportunities for younger players to establish themselves in the bowl game.

Alabama Football: Huge opportunity for wide receiver room

Alabama has experienced several portal losses at the wide receiver position. Two of the losses were speedy but seldom-used reserves in Aaron Anderson (LSU) and Christian Leary (UCF). The other two, however, were contributing members of the rotation.

Jojo Earle (TCU) returned from injury in week five, and finished the season with 12 catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns in eight games. Traeshon Holden (Oregon) had an even greater role, starting several games at wideout for the Tide. Holden started the season strong but fizzled out as the season went on. For the year, he recorded 25 catches for 331 yards and six scores.

There are a few receivers that will see more playing time due to these transfers. Alabama’s leading receivers, Ja’Corey Brooks and Jermaine Burton, seem solidified in their roles. Freshman Kendrick Law has seen increased reps as Holden’s opportunities have dwindled, and Law could see a featured role with Holden completely out of the picture.

With Earle gone, freshmen Kobe Prentice and Isaiah Bond will see more snaps in the slot. Other players that we haven’t seen much this year but could work into the bowl game rotation include freshman Shazz Preston, veteran Thaiu Jones-Bell, and transfer Tyler Harrell.

Harrell battled injuries for much of the season before finally making his debut against Mississippi State. He has made brief appearances in five games, and should be a lot closer to full health after a month of bowl preparation. Prior to the season, Harrell was tabbed as a possible deep threat in the Alabama offense. Perhaps we could finally see him make a difference in the Sugar Bowl.

The Sugar Bowl is a huge game for the Alabama receivers because the group that will play in the game is expected to fully return in 2023. With the exclusion of JUCO product Malik Benson and the 2023 freshmen, this game will offer a preview of Alabama’s receiving corps for next season. Players like Law, Prentice, Bond, and Harrell will benefit not only from the game experience, but also from the two weeks of increased practice reps.

Alabama Football: New faces on offensive line?

With five outgoing transfers, including starting guard Javion Cohen (Miami), the offensive line has taken the biggest transfer portal hit thus far. Still, the starting group in the Sugar Bowl will not see a lot of shake-up. Tyler Steen and JC Latham will start at tackle, Seth McLaughlin will start at center, and Emil Ekiyor Jr. and Tyler Booker will take the guard spots.

Booker has not been credited with a start this season, but he has been eating into Cohen’s snaps since September and should make a seamless transition. Booker has to show he can perform full-time at a consistent level, but many Alabama football fans already consider this change an upgrade.

The real hit will be to the depth of the offensive line. With Cohen gone, Alabama’s top reserve lineman moves into a starting role. Bama also loses four additional key backups who are all veteran players at this point. The room will get even thinner after the bowl game, as Tyler Steen and Emil Ekiyor Jr. will attend the Senior Bowl and enter the NFL draft.

As far as offensive line depth for the bowl game and beyond, there isn’t much there. Senior Darrian Dalcourt is a solid backup with starting experience at center, and graduate student Kendall Randolph is a veteran utility piece that can be plugged in wherever he is needed. Neither is expected to remain with the team following the bowl game.

The only other scholarship linemen available for the game are redshirt freshmen Terrence Ferguson II, Jaeden Roberts, and James Brockermeyer, as well as true freshman Elijah Pritchett. This quartet has played in just nine combined games in their careers, including five for Ferguson II, two for Roberts, and one apiece for Brockermeyer and Pritchett.

Early Signing Day Prediction: QB/RB/WR. dark. Next

This group, along with the three returning starters, will be the veterans on the 2023 offensive line, and could produce multiple starters. It will be interesting to see how many snaps they receive in the bowl game.