It’s only spring, but it’s never too early to look ahead to the fall. In the fourth installment of a position-by-position breakdown of the Crimson Tide’s 2015 roster heading into spring practice, Tide 99.1 looks at the tight ends.

Who’s gone:
- Brian Vogler (graduated/NFL Draft)
- Malcolm Faciane (left program)
- Kurt Freitag (left program)
- Corey McCarron (left program)
- Isaac Leon (left program)
- Kieran Williams (left program)

Who’s back:
- O.J. Howard (junior)
- Ty Flournoy-Smith (senior)
- Brandon Greene (junior)
- Dakota Ball (redshirt junior)
- Michael Nysewander (senior)
- Truett Harris (walk-on senior)
- David D’Amico (walk-on junior)

Who’s new: N/A

Keep an eye on: O.J. Howard. Two years after signing with Alabama as a five-star prospect out of tiny Autauga Academy in Prattville, the jury is still out on Howard. While few may doubt his size and ability, the production, fair or not, hasn’t quite met expectations. In two seasons, Howard has 31 career catches for 529 yards and two touchdowns, neither score coming last year. To be fair, freshman year is often a transition period for most players, while last season he was forced into a secondary role along with the rest of the receivers during Amari Cooper’s Heisman finalist campaign. But Cooper is now gone, along with co-starting tight end Brian Vogler and the Tide’s other two starting wideouts (DeAndrew White and Christion Jones), giving Howard a clear opportunity as the team’s top returning receiver this spring.

Overview: With Vogler’s collegiate career over, Howard will undoubtedly be the center of attraction at tight end if he wasn’t already. While the rising junior was still the team’s leading receiver at tight end each of the last two seasons, all things point to a significant increase in production next season.

Following Lane Kiffin’s arrival last spring, Howard said the offense was “tight end friendly,” which is probably still true, as the former USC and Tennessee coach held that distinction before ever setting foot on campus. For instance, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Howard, who has shown flashes of his unique blend of size and speed for his position, created a few mismatches when he split out wide.

Behind Howard on the depth chart are Flournoy-Smith and Greene, both of whom have little game experience. Flournoy-Smith, a junior college transfer, showed flashes as a red zone threat and even caught a touchdown, but only played in four games last season. Greene, a converted offensive tackle last fall, made only one catch for 24 yards, though it came at one of the team’s most important moments of the season – overtime in the Tide’s come-from-behind win at LSU. His size (6-foot-5, 304 pounds) and former position indicate he projects as more of an extra blocker than a pass-catching threat.

Dakota Ball, who shifted over to tight end from the defensive line during the season, also figures to be used as an extra blocker, though his position hasn’t yet been changed on the team’s official roster.

Predicted 2015 Post-Spring Depth Chart:

1. O.J. Howard
2. Ty Flournoy-Smith/Brandon Greene

Still to come:
- Hale Hentges (The four-star tight end from Jefferson City, Missouri was rated as the No. 3 player at his position by 247Sports, ESPN and Scout.)