Alabama Football: Projecting the 2013 RB Depth Chart
With the 2012 BCS title now sealed tightly within the walls of the overflowing Alabama trophy case, thoughts turn to the 2013 season.
The seniors are gone, as are the trio of juniors who elected to leave school early. Among the departed is feature running back Eddie Lacy.
This leaves a huge void at the position, but the Tide are loaded with talent and the competition for playing time among the ball-carriers is expected to be a fierce battle.
While the coaching staff focuses on putting the finishing touches on what is likely to be another top-five recruiting class, let's take a little time to speculate what the running back depth chart might look like going into the 2013 season.
1. T.J. Yeldon
There is little doubt that budding superstar T.J. Yeldon will be the feature back going into the season.
As a freshman, Yeldon made it a habit of embarrassing opposing defenses with his quick changes of direction and electrifying bursts of speed, totaling 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season.
He finished fourth nationally among freshmen in total rushing yards but, aside from Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, averaged the most yards per carry (6.33).
He did most of this as a backup to Lacy and amazingly had less than 15 carries in 10 of the Tide's 14 games. He had 10 carries or less seven times.
With Lacy out of the picture, Yeldon will be poised to make a run at 1,500 yards or more.
2. Jalston Fowler
Upcoming senior Jalston Fowler had 67 yards on just eight carries in the 2012 season opener against Michigan. In the next game against Western Kentucky, though, Fowler blew out his knee and missed the remainder of the season.
Fowler had opened the season sharing the backup role behind Lacy before going down. He played both running back and fullback, filling the latter when the Tide operated out of the I-formation.
Fowler has just over 600 yards total in his three seasons with the Tide but is averaging over seven yards per carry in that time.
Provided that he is healthy, Fowler will almost certainly be for Yeldon what Yeldon was for Lacy this past season.
One of the most underappreciated backs in the SEC, look for Fowler to make a name for himself next year. He is a punishing bruiser of a back who will surely leave some scars on those who try to tackle him.
3. Dee Hart
Dee Hart was another freshman who expected to make an immediate impact in 2012. He saw limited action in a backup role, totaling 88 yards on 21 carries before suffering a season-ending injury against Ole Miss.
Hart is considerably smaller than Yeldon and Fowler, Hart has elusive quickness and is able to duck and dodge his way for big yardage.
He will have to earn this slot, though, as this is where the competition revs up. If he can hold his previously earned place in the running back line, Hart will be a big part of the 'Bama offense in 2013.
Hart also returned four punts last season for an average of 12.5 yards. This is another role he will have the opportunity to earn playing time in next season.
4. Kenyan Drake
Yes, another freshman in 2012, Kenyan Drake began the season as the Tide's fifth-string tailback. The injuries to Fowler and Hart, though, bumped him up the line, and he actually finished third on the team in rushing yards with 281 on 6.7 yards per carry.
Drake was given reserve playing time in all but four games this year and has a good chance to usurp Hart for the third-string role. The biggest question here is whether or not he can keep himself out of Saban's doghouse.
Drake was suspended for the Western Carolina game last fall for a violation of team rules. If he has his head on straight, and we can only assume that he will, Drake and Hart will battle neck and neck for playing time.
One other advantage Hart has over Drake is that he is once again considerably smaller than his three cohorts and could be used as more of a counterbalance to the three big guys.
5. Derrick Henry
Incoming freshman Derrick Henry may best be known for breaking the national high school career rushing record this past season, a record that stood for 60 years. In 13 games as a senior, Henry ran for 4,261 yards and 55 touchdowns.
He is already on campus and enrolled in class for the Tide, which gives him a distinct advantage going into the fall. Yeldon and Amari Cooper did the same thing for the Tide last spring and it worked out pretty well for them.
Oversized for a running back, the 6'3", 240-pound Henry may not even play running back for Alabama but is expected to start there initially at the very least.
If he can back up the promise that he comes with, Henry could see time right away for Alabama.
6. The Rest
Upcoming sophomores Brent Calloway and Trey Roberts are expected to return for the Tide as well next fall. Calloway is the only one of the two who saw playing time, carrying the ball just 10 times all season.
Along with these two, Alabama also has verbal commitments from Altee Tenpenny (Little Rock, Ark.) and Tyren Jones (Marietta, Ga.), both highly touted recruits.
Just as Drake never expected to see the field as much as he did last season, there is always a chance for these four. Unfortunately, with the talent ahead of them, their chances of carrying the ball in 2013 will likely be minimal at best.
Either way, the Tide is loaded once again at running back and should have little trouble overcoming the loss of Lacy.
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