Alabama Football: Spring Practice Preview for the Running Backs
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Running back is a position that’s been seemingly declining in value at all levels of football, except at the University of Alabama. Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide have established a factory of NFL-caliber rushers that seems to be gaining steam with every passing year.
After watching the likes of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy stampede their way to the next level, this spring signals T.J. Yeldon’s ascension to the coveted lead back role for the Tide this fall.
But after Saban brought in four of the nation’s top running back recruits in the Tide’s 2013 recruiting class, Yeldon will be pushed by a number of young and hungry candidates.
Sophomore Kenyan Drake enters the spring with a chance to slide into the backup role vacated by Yeldon, but stud recruit and early enrollee Derrick Henry is already breathing down Drake’s neck in what should be one of the spring’s most intriguing storylines.
Senior Jalston Fowler and sophomore Demetrius Hart—two players whose 2012 season’s was cut short due to injury—could figure into the spring rotation. But both players could also end up switching positions—with corner being a likely landing spot for Hart and halfback being considered for Fowler.
How will the running back rotation shake out by the time the A-Day game arrives?
What is a realistic expectation for Henry’s debut season, and what does he need to accomplish by the end of the spring?
Find out everything you need to know about Alabama’s stable of running backs in this spring practice preview breaking down the Tide’s group of rushers.
4.Starter Entering Spring Practice
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Starter – T.J. Yeldon (Soph.)
T.J. Yeldon burst onto the scene at this point a year ago, and cemented himself as a freshman to watch by exploding in last season’s A-Day game.
The Daphne-native rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns as Lacy’s understudy, and he enters his sophomore season as one of the SEC’s most accomplished playmakers.
The 6’2”, 218-pounder is a special talent who has a chance to become the Tide’s next great at the position.
Drake, who is also a sophomore, was the team’s third-leading rusher in 2012 averaging nearly seven yards per carry and scoring five touchdowns in mop-up duty.
But just as Yeldon entered the spring last season with a buzz surrounding his arrival, Henry—the nation’s all-time leading rusher at the prep level—enrolled in January and has visions of following a similar path this season (h/t Barrett Sallee, B/R).
Hart and Fowler both have experience working out of the backfield, but with three additional heralded recruits set to arrive on campus in the summer, it appears that the best option for both to find playing time will be at different positions.
Of the two, Fowler will more likely stay at running back.
Regardless of the position switches, the players behind Yeldon will need to take advantage of the opportunity to make an impression on the coaching staff before spring ball concludes.
3.Biggest Battle to Watch Entering Spring
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Backup to Yeldon – Kenyan Drake vs. Derrick Henry vs. Jalston Fowler
With Fowler a candidate to potentially earn snaps at the halfback spot, this may come down to a duel between Drake and Henry—at least for the spring.
Drake has the advantage of knowing the system and being familiar with having success in his limited action last season.
However, Henry appears to have freakish traits that could prove to make it tough on the staff to keep him off the field.
If the Sunshine State product can grasp the offense and pass-blocking concepts—something Saban is known to harp on—by the end of spring, it should bode well for his chances to have a significant role this fall.
2. Impact Newcomer
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Impact Newcomer – Derrick Henry
Henry was a five-star recruit that some recruiting services listed as an athlete, mainly because his 6’3”, 240-pound frame and startling athleticism could have been used on defense as a linebacker or even potentially at defensive end down the road.
However, Henry wasted little time making an impression on his teammates during the opening week of spring practices—with star senior linebacker C.J. Mosley drawing a comparison to former great and current Cleveland Browns star Trent Richardson, according to Andrew Gribble of al.com.
The fact that Henry has chosen to wear Richardson’s famed No. 3 likely fueled that association.
As Gribble noted, his teammates are already singing his praises for his work ethic. While nothing is promised at this point, Henry appears to be the latest in a string of powerful backs set to carry on the Tide’s tradition of excellence at the position.
1. Grade on Strength of Position Entering Spring
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Grade on RB Position Entering Spring – A
It sounds funny to even surmise that Alabama is light on numbers at the running back position this spring, but there are currently only three backs that have earned carries at the college level. But taking into account that Saban felt comfortable letting Hart give defense a try, and it becomes clear that the numbers for spring is a non-issue.
The arrival of Altee Tenpenny, Tyren Jones and Alvin Kamara over the summer will give the Tide a loaded backfield in terms of talent and depth.
Alabama is a school noted for the spirited battles that are waged in practice, but for a star such as Yeldon, the main agenda for spring likely consists of fine-tuning his game and staying healthy.
For rising talents such as Drake and Henry, the next month’s worth of practices will be critical for their development and their chances of cracking the rotation in the fall.
If Fowler can show that he’s fully recovered from a torn ACL that cost him most of his junior season, it will be a bonus for the running back group.
With Yeldon representing the unit as one of the top rushers in the country, and a stable of young talents nipping at his heels for carries, Alabama’s ground attack is a safe bet to remain one of the nation’s most potent units.