Alabama Football: Why Crimson Tide Are Best Suited for Committee of RBs in 2012
Butch Dill/Getty Images
Considering the success that Alabama’s running backs have enjoyed since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, it would not be a stretch to say that Alabama could claim the title of “Running Back U” in college football’s modern era.
Coming into the 2012 season, the Crimson Tide appear to have a loaded stable of talented backs yet again—but how will Saban adjust his backfield to get a similar level of production without the star power of backs like Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson?
For starters, Alabama’s running backs will likely find plenty of running room thanks to lining up behind what should be the nation’s top offensive line unit.
While the well-groomed heir-apparent to the pair of former All-Americans mentioned above appears to be rising junior Eddie Lacy, the quality and multi-purpose abilities of the players behind him may call for new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to utilize a committee approach.
Players like junior Jalston Fowler, redshirt freshman Dee Hart and true freshman T.J. Yeldon are all capable of making an impact on an offense in search of new playmakers.
Here are five reasons why the Crimson Tide are best suited for a healthy running back rotation in 2012.
5. Quality Depth
Fowler has performed well in spot duty, but his role could increase this season behind starter Eddie Lacy.
Butch Dill/Getty Images
The quartet of Lacy, Yeldon, Fowler and Hart all bring different elements to the Crimson Tide’s backfield.
While Lacy is the most accomplished of the four on the college level, Fowler has also had some success in limited action (496 career rushing yards, five touchdowns) while Yeldon won MVP honors in the spring game and Hart built a considerable buzz last offseason before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for the rest of 2011.
Lacy has all the tools to be one of the SEC’s best running backs this season, but considering that he missed the spring recovering from toe surgery, it’s a good thing that the Crimson Tide have several options to turn to in case he’s not able to return to the form he’s displayed thus far in his career.
4. Fresh Legs
Hart could be one of the Tide's most explosive players in space this season. Pic courtesy, 247 Sports.
Another benefit to having a deep backfield is that rotating them in and out will keep them all fresher over the course of a long season.
With both Lacy and Hart recovering from recent injuries that required months of rehab, they both have the luxury of not having to be the lone workhorse for the Crimson Tide’s offense this season.
Additionally, for power backs like Lacy and Fowler—their bruising styles will be much more effective late in games when each are still able to run with the same authority as they do in the beginning of games.
3. Situationally Smart
The 246-pound Fowler could find a situational role as the Tide's short-yardage hammer this season.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The term “situation football” is a favorite expression amongst those in the coaching community—and the running back position is a perfect example of creating mismatches and maximizing the strengths of particular players.
While Lacy has proven to be a multi-purpose back (13 career receptions) and Yeldon starred in the spring game posting game highs in rushing and receiving, both could find themselves on the sidelines in specific situations.
The 6’1”, 246-pound Fowler is perfectly suited to pick up the tough yards needed in short-yardage downs while the diminutive Hart (5’9”, 190 pounds) possesses the ability to become a dynamic playmaking option out of the backfield on third-downs.
The versatility of the unit as a whole is an asset that could—if used properly—cause nightmares for opposing defenses this season.
2. Grooming for the Future
Yeldon gaining significant time this fall will help him eventually take over for Lacy as the Tide's lead back.
Both Ingram and Richardson burst onto the scene as freshmen (each rushed for more than 700 yards in their debut season) before developing into superstars that would go on to become early entries in the NFL draft after three years in Tuscaloosa.
With Lacy—who is already projected as a potential second-round pick in next year’s NFL draft by CBSsports.com—potentially a candidate to bolt for the NFL if he has a strong season, it would be beneficial to get his successor on the field for meaningful action this fall.
At this point, the most likely candidate to fill that role would be Yeldon—whose spring game performance was fawned over by fans, but was impressive enough to garner high praise from Saban.
1. Stars Will Still Shine
Lacy will still get enough touches to prove that he is one of the best backs in the SEC, and potentially the entire nation.
Butch Dill/Getty Images
Alabama’s stable of backs allows its coaching staff the ability to attack defenses in waves, but their ability to run the ball well has helped groom its share of superstars.
Lacy has produced enough (1,080 career rushing yards, 13 touchdowns) to be one of 64 players (along with teammate and Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron) around the nation to make the preseason watch list for the Maxwell Award—which is annually given to the nation’s most outstanding player.
That type of recognition lends credence to the theory that Lacy could be on the verge of a breakout year—but the highly-touted Yeldon could still find enough opportunity to replicate the freshman production of Ingram and Richardson.
However the playing time gets split up amongst the members of Alabama’s running back group, expect the Crimson Tide to once again possess one of the nation’s top rushing attacks in 2012.