Alabama Football is entering the 2023 season with two new coordinators, which has left much of the fanbase with mixed feelings. The vast majority of Alabama Football fans were ready to part ways with former offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and former defensive coordinator Pete Golding, but the new hires weren’t exactly considered home runs at the time.
Coach Nick Saban brought in former Notre Dame quarterback and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees to call the Bama offense. He also brought in seasoned vet Kevin Steele, who has been a fixture in the SEC for decades, to run the defense. While these weren’t the most popular hires, the optimistic perspective is that they fit a philosophical shift within the program.
Alabama Football has not been bashful this offseason about rebranding its identity and being more physical on both sides of the ball. This change seems to be necessary relative to the Crimson Tide’s personnel, particularly its lack of experience at the quarterback position.
Both Rees and Steele face unique challenges in this transition period, but which of these new coordinators has the tougher job?
Tommy Rees has the difficult task of manning the Alabama offense in the post-Bryce Young era. The previous OC had the benefit of having Young at QB; regardless of the play call, Bryce Young’s athleticism and innovative ability allowed him to regularly bail out the offense.
Rees may have to manage with shaky quarterback play, especially early in the season, given that none of his options at the position have significant experience. However, the rest of the offense is built to allow a young quarterback to develop and eventually flourish.
Alabama expects to have an imposing offensive line, and Rees should have ample weapons at his disposal. Although it doesn’t have any superstars at the current moment, Bama’s skill positions are loaded with versatility and depth.
Kevin Steele has a challenging job as well, taking over a defense that lost six starters to the 2023 NFL Draft. While this year’s unit is very talented, it will be fairly young at some of the most important positions, such as safety and inside linebacker.
Alabama Football: Defensive stability vs offensive volatility?
It has been stated that Steele intends to simplify the defense. In theory, this greatly benefits the Tide’s young but extremely athletic personnel on the defensive side of the ball.
Instead of overthinking, linebackers like Deontae Lawson and Jihaad Campbell can play full-speed, making plays from sideline to sideline. Edge rushers like Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell can pin their ears back and do what they do best, which is pressure passers. Defensive backs such as freshman safety Caleb Downs can rely on their razor-sharp instincts rather than trying to learn complicated schemes on the fly.
Given the raw talent, as well as Kevin Steele’s irreplaceable experience and proven track record, this defense has an opportunity to be really good. Perhaps more importantly, I believe the hiring of Steele raised the floor of the defense.
That is to say, I think this will be a top-15 defense at minimum. I don’t believe it will surrender catastrophic plays in excessive amounts, or have the kind of meltdowns that it sometimes did under Pete Golding (2020 Ole Miss, 2020 Florida, 2022 Tennessee, etc).
The offense for Alabama Football could potentially have a high ceiling, given its dual-threat quarterbacks, offensive line play, and potentially explosive talent at running back and receiver.
However, this ceiling is highly dependent on one of Bama’s QBs developing into a proficient passer, which is a major question mark at the moment. As a result, I also think the offense could have a low floor.
If the Crimson Tide’s quarterbacks fail to be consistently effective passers or turn the ball over regularly (see 2022 Texas A&M game), the offense would become predictable and one-dimensional. This could be a potentially disastrous situation given the gauntlet of a schedule Alabama will face this fall.
For these reasons, I believe Tommy Rees has the more difficult job, and is under far more pressure than Kevin Steele.
Here’s to hoping the young OC turns that pressure into a diamond.