Understanding Alabama's 'new' offense
New Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier won’t change much from Alabama’s methodical, wear-you-down attack, but that doesn’t mean things will be exactly the same as they were under Jim McElwain.
A big part of the reason head coach Nick Saban hired Nussmeier is because he brings an offense to the table that’s very similar to the one Alabama ran under McElwain, its last offensive coordinator. The offense featured a single running back with a number of tight end and H-back shifts designed to create confusion for the defense and provide extra blocking support with no full back on the field.
It also allows for more receivers to get on the field, spreading the defense out and giving the quarterback more passing possibilities.
“Obviously, we want to be balanced on offense,” Nussmeier said earlier in the fall during his only media address until bowl season. “The goal is to put our playmakers in the best positions to make plays. We’ll use a variety of things, whether it be shifts, motions, formations, whatever it is to create advantages for us.”
The transition between coordinators has been nearly seamless because the players and Nussmeier have to learn equally as much, each adjusting to the nuances of the other.
“It’s like anything else, when you merge things, you try and look at what the strengths of each are, what the weaknesses are and you try and build off both strengths,” Nussmeier said. “When you know you’re running this play and you want to call it this, and how does it fit within the system. Then when you want to grow and build off that play, how are those terms going to fit to make sense for the players, because everything you do has to be a teaching progression for the players.”
That doesn’t mean the new system won’t include a few new wrinkles of its own. Reporters have seen bruising back Jalston Fowler line up as a full back at times in practice, something not seen at Alabama under Saban except for in goal line situations. McElwain ran a mostly one-back offense that relied on receivers and tight ends to do more work in run blocking. At 6-foot-1, 242 pounds, Fowler is certainly built like a fullback and he could help give defenses a new look they haven’t seen on film.
“If that’s how Coach puts it,” running back Eddie Lacy said when asked about Fowler playing full back.
Indeed, the players and coaches have been tight-lipped about the potential for a new formation or twist in the offense. At A-Day, Alabama’s annual spring game, quarterback AJ McCarron joked that the offense ran the same play nine times during one drive. And Saban was adamant about keeping everything under wraps.
“You didn’t see anything new,” Saban said. “Unless you want to just email Michigan what we’re doing, anything new we’re doing. If I saw anything new out there, I would have been upset.”
If there’s one area where Alabama may see the most improvement, it’s at the quarterback position. Nussmeier was a quarterback himself at Idaho and later in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts. He’s also coached numerous quarterbacks, including Marc Bulger as a coach with the St. Louis Rams, Drew Stanton at Michigan State and Jake Locker at Washington, who was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans.
And last season, first-year starter Keith Price broke single-season Washington passing records for passing touchdowns (33), completion percentage (.669) and passing efficiency (161.9).
That obviously has quarterback AJ McCarron excited, playing at a position that, under Saban and McElwain, was more about not making mistakes than making big plays.
“The adjustments we’ve made in the passing game are going to be beneficial to our offensive team maybe being more explosive and creating more balance,” Saban said. “I’m really excited to have [Nussmeier].”