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Alabama football film study: What the Crimson Tide's spring expansions will bring in 2024

Last week, The athletics The Alabama football film study has taken an in-depth look at the program's eight summer enrollees from the high school ranks. Now the focus turns to Alabama's spring transfer portal expansions.

Before we dive in, here's a quick look at how Alabama performed overall in the transfer window. The Tide lost 39 players to the transfer portal this cycle, the most in the SEC, and picked up 14 players in total. Despite this discrepancy, the team actually gained on-field experience. Alabama's portal exits played a total of 4,351 snaps in the 2023 season. The portal inductees played a total of 4,986 at their previous schools.

The depth of some position groups has been more affected than others, and some of the personnel losses can't be quantified from the 2023 snaps, particularly the 2024 early enrollees who left after Nick Saban announced his retirement. But overall, Alabama has filled out its roster with experienced players who fill short- and long-term needs, in addition to the 28 high school enrollees. Here are the six players Alabama added through the spring portal window:

Nicholson won't be part of that film study, but his importance cannot be overstated. The reigning Lou Groza winner compares favorably to Will Reichard, the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history who was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings this spring. Nicholson has converted 84.7 percent of his field goal attempts in his three-year career; Reichard graduated from college with 84.0 percent. Nicholson could also be a significant improvement on kickoffs. Last season, 59.7 percent of Reichard's kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, compared to 71.2 percent for Nicholson.

offense

Proctor, who rejoins the team in January after transferring to Iowa, was Alabama's highest-rated recruit. He struggled for much of last season, but he has undeniable elite qualities and was on the rise late in the season. Proctor's overall grade with Pro Football Focus rose from 56.2 in the first seven games to 69.2 in the final seven games.

Proctor's mistakes last season were a healthy mix of mental and physical errors. The mental errors should be less frequent in his second year as a Power 5 starter, and some of his physical errors have improved as the season has gone on.

For example, Proctor struggled with low hand position and body tilt early on. In this clip, Arkansas linebacker Landon Jackson (who had 3.5 sacks against the Crimson Tide) takes advantage of Proctor's tilt and low hands to get by him and score an easy sack.

Fast forward to the SEC Championship game: Proctor continues to push the edge out, stays upright and has his hands up. Georgia's Jalon Walker can't use his speed to get past Proctor and is held up, allowing Jalen Milroe to convert a crucial fourth down attempt.

Additionally, there were moments where Proctor got his hands on a defender but didn't throw him off track enough to prevent an interception. In this play from the Tennessee game, Proctor was matched up with James Pearce, projected first-round pick in the 2025 NFL Draft. Proctor's hands are on him, but Pearce is still able to position himself well and reach for the sack (it's worth noting that Milroe could have advanced in the pocket).

On another snap in December against Georgia, Proctor allowed a slight push but stood firm and did not allow further pressure. Milroe barely had to move and scored another strike for a first down.

Another factor that should help Proctor is Alabama's apparent attempt to play lighter on the offensive line than last season to adjust to a new system that requires more pulling and blocking in space. Guard Tyler Booker announced this week that he has gone down to 330 from the 352 pounds he was last fall. Proctor, who played at 360 last season, should lose some weight this summer. Most of Proctor's problems as a freshman came against pass rushers; losing some weight should improve his mobility and allow him to build on a mostly adequate season as a run blocker. Plays like this one against LSU, where he essentially took out three defenders, bode well for the running game this fall.

The other new addition to the offensive line, Geno VanDeMark, left his starting position at Michigan State to transfer to Alabama. VanDeMark started Michigan State's spring game at right guard after starting six games there last season. His play to get to the second level and block the linebacker from the play led to one of the biggest highlights of the spring game.

It's a little difficult to gauge VanDeMark's performance due to his injury-plagued 2023. He started the first three games (Central Michigan, Richmond, Washington) before missing five of the final nine; when he was able to play, he was limited to about 35 snaps per game. His strengths are experience and the ability to take defenders out of the game when he's confident in his assignment. However, he has struggled to consistently identify his man and get his hands on him effectively, which can lead to botched assignments and negative plays. VanDeMark is somewhat versatile in terms of positions, taking snaps at center and guard last season (284 total snaps).

Here's another great example of what he can do when the traits are right. VanDeMark wins his one-on-one and pushes the lineman out of the quarterback's passing lane, allowing him to easily finish the ball.

VanDeMark (6-5, 325) has a similar size profile to guard Darrian Dalcourt (6-3, 320), who is now ineligible. He doesn't have the potential of some of Alabama's young linemen, but fills a needed experience gap and, like Dalcourt, can play guard and center in the event of an injury.

defense

Alabama has made a big push for help in the secondary this spring with new additions Jones, Howard and Mack. Here's how each of them fared in terms of snap count by position in 2023, according to TruMedia.

Dashawn Jones: 575 snaps total – 516 as outside cornerback, 39 in the box, 19 in the slot, one as free safety.

Cameron Howard: 347 snaps in total – 167 as free safety, 129 in the box, 42 in the slot, eight at the line of scrimmage, one as outside cornerback.

King Mack: 70 snaps total – 49 as free safety, 12 in the box, six in the slot, two at the line of scrimmage, one as outside cornerback.

Jones fills a big void at outside cornerback and will likely play opposite Domani Jackson. Alabama's new defense now relies on a field corner and a boundary corner: The boundary corner covers the short side of the field from the hash mark to the sidelines, while the field corner covers the wide side from the hash mark where the ball is placed. The wide side favors Jackson, an explosive and lanky athlete, which puts Jones in the boundary. In that role, Jones will deal with more one-on-one situations in pass coverage and a shorter area to defend against the run. But he's shown he's good in both areas.

In this game, Jones is one-on-one with Georgia Tech's top receiver Eric Singleton, who averaged 15 yards per catch last season. Jones never lets Singleton get behind and shows plenty of patience and ball tracking to secure an interception.

A common thread that runs through Alabama's cornerbacks at the boundary position is tackling. This two-play sequence against Virginia Tech showcases Jones' tackling ability. In the first clip, on a third-and-9 attempt, Jones is confronted by the much larger Da'Quan Felton (6-5, 207) but tackles him and throws him to the ground just short of the line for the win, forcing a fourth down.

A few plays later, Jones comes down the hill to lose the ball carrier in a tackle.

With Howard and Mack, Alabama gets a couple of development players who could also help in the short term. Both players could play a role at all three safety positions – Free, Rover (Strong Safety) and Husky (Slot) – and bring strong skills with them.

Howard is more of a ball chaser who can read the quarterback's eyes well to track and make a play on the ball. Those skills will benefit him in defensive coordinator Kane Wommack's defense, which will play more zone than Alabama has in years past. Here, Howard read the eyes of Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa the entire time and made a play on the ball well, leading to an interception.

Mack is an explosive athlete, Florida's 3A state champion in the 400-meter dash (46.25) in spring 2022, as well as an all-state honoree in the 100-meter dash (10.64) and 200-meter dash (21.43).

That explosiveness can be seen in the play below, where Mack was able to pressure the quarterback and disrupt the throw.

Howard (5-11, 189 pounds) and Mack (5-10, 188 pounds) are both considered undersized, but both are more than willing tacklers. On the following play, Howard pounced on running back Marcus Carroll, now at Missouri, and stopped him despite Carroll building pressure through the gap.

Mack was lined up in multiple spots during Penn State's spring game, from both safety positions to inside the box. On the following play, he was confronted by tight end Joey Schlaffer (6-5, 233). Mack not only dodged oncoming receiver traffic, but also limited the yards after the catch with an abrupt tackle.

Both players should be a welcome addition to a secondary that was completely rebuilt this offseason. They will have to get used to a new defense after a year of college football, but both are an asset, especially on special teams. Tacklers who play with that level of commitment will certainly get their chance in one way or another.

(Photo by DaShawn Jones: Grant Halverson / Getty Images))