How Alabama’s offense could look coordinated by Tommy Rees
By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Peyton Davis
TUSCALOOSA – Much has been made of the Alabama Crimson Tide offense in recent seasons. The numbers over the past two seasons under the play calling of offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien have generally been elite.
In 2021, his first season, Alabama had the highest scoring offense in the SEC (39.6 points per game), the Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback (Bryce Young) and numerous finalists for awards, resulting in a SEC Championship and National Championship appearance.
In 2022, Alabama was ranked second in the SEC and fourth nationally at 41.1 points per game, but a 10-2 regular season record and situational issues in big spots this year led to a lot of scrutiny around O’Brien and the ultimate mutual parting of ways this past offseason.
The hiring of former Notre Dame quarterback and offensive coordinator from 2020-22 Tommy Rees was a complete 180 degree turn from O’Brien. Rees, 31, is over 20 years younger than O’Brien, 53, and doesn’t have the pedigree of being a former head coach on both the NFL and College level.
However, youth and creativity had been lacking since the departure of Steve Sarkisian, and that was clearly the focal point for Nick Saban with this hire.
Alabama was comfortable making Rees amongst the highest paid coordinators in the entire country despite never having a top flight offense in his time at Notre Dame (finishing 30th, 20th and 42nd in scoring from 2020-2022), but this hire was based off potential of Rees’ tendencies are as a play caller and how that could work with the talent at Alabama.
It was clear just by simply watching Alabama these last two years that the offense was solely reliant on the ability of Bryce Young, whether that was shown by him not making line checks that had Alabama constantly snapping the ball as the play clock was expiring or him going through full-field progressions, it does not take a deep dive in film to see that O’Brien put a lot of pressure on his intellectual ability as a quarterback.
Lucky for him, Young has a historically great mind and processing ability that made Alabama still a very explosive offense in his time as the play caller, but a closer to average college starter would be clearly overwhelmed in O’Brien’s offense.
This is where the Rees hire begins to make more sense, as he was a college quarterback himself less than a decade ago and can empathize with any potential starter that Alabama will have in the post-Bryce Young years. The last few years, although not statically marveling, Rees does a lot of things that Alabama fans would appreciate.
He utilizes what is referred to as 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends), which led to his offenses routinely running the ball over half the time and turned tight end Michael Mayer into one of the most prolific players at that position in the country and a borderline first round pick going to the Raiders at 36 overall.
These heavier packages and tighter formations will utilize the talent that Alabama has at running back while also lead to the team facing less difficult third down distances, which was the primary criticism of O’Brien’s philosophy. This was something that fans loved about Lane Kiffin during his tenure because of how he utilized balanced play calling and the tight end position and made the game simpler for quarterbacks Blake Simms, Jacob Coker and Jalen Hurts as a freshman.
Although it is still unclear who the starter will be for the Tide in 2023, former Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner recently transferred in to join the competition between inexperienced players Ty Simpson and Jalen Milroe, and his pre-existing relationship with Rees clearly makes him the favorite.
If Buchner does end up being quarterback, Rees will know what he is getting and cater the offense towards him. This will mean that the unit’s success will not start and end with the ability of the passer as it has the past few years, and for a program that has won championships with signal callers Greg McElroy, AJ McCarron, Jacob Coker and a combination of young Jalen Hurts and freshman Tua Tagovailoa, this change will comfort fans of the program.
The youth and energy that Rees will bring was already apparent in this past month’s spring practice for the players.
“I wouldn’t say too much is new, but a lot is different,” Junior wide receiver Ja’Corey Brooks said in a presser during spring. “He is more young, and he’s got a little more swag in him. Everything is like, we can relate more.”
Although Bill O’Brien has the pedigree and resume that has made him a very successful coach on both the college and pro level, the Rees hire will be a positive change that will help reignite a program that needs a shift after Bryce Young’s departure.