Alabama head coach Nick Saban will enter the Georgia Dome on Saturday in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Virginia Tech with something incredibly beneficial in his back pocket—an experienced, talented and versatile backfield.
Though Bovada.lv has quarterback AJ McCarron as the likeliest member of the Crimson Tide to win the Heisman Trophy, running back T.J. Yeldon is nipping on his heels after a stellar freshman campaign that saw the Daphne, Ala., native rush for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns while serving primarily as a backup.
Not a bad debut.
Yeldon will certainly be the go-to guy for the Crimson Tide against the Hokies.
However, bruiser Jalston Fowler—who rushed for 85 yards before a knee injury ended his 2012 campaign—and sophomore Dee Hart—who's coming off an ACL injury—will also be featured prominently.
"T.J. is certainly a guy who's played a lot and has experience," Saban said. "Jalston is another guy who's played a lot and had experience. He's going to play a dual role in this game—some running back and some H-back. Dee Hart is a guy who's played some who will have some situational playing opportunities."
How will that committee split up the carries?
Expect Saban to treat Yeldon as the unquestioned No. 1 back, because that's exactly who he is and what this team needs him to be.
The 6'2", 218-pounder is big enough to handle the punishment between the tackles but has quick feet like a smaller back, which makes him very difficult to wrap up. When he gets into space, look out, because he has absolutely game-breaking speed.
Hart will likely be the change-up back.
At 5'9", 187 pounds, he is quick on the edge and can be a tremendous asset catching passes out of the backfield in the flat or on designed screens.
If Saban and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier can find a way to get Yeldon and Hart on the field at the same time, that will present matchup nightmares for Hokie defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
At 6'1", 250 pounds, Fowler will start out as a short-yardage specialist. If some of the newcomers step up against the Hokies, he will evolve into a true H-back.
Alabama made waves in February when it signed running backs Derrick Henry, Altee Tenpenny, Tyren Jones and Alvin Kamara—all of whom were rated as at least 4-star recruits by 247Sports.coml.
Expect Henry and Tenpenny to find the field early and often on Saturday.
"I think they're all good," Saban said. "Kamara got injured, so he missed a while. He's going to be back today. It'd be hard to get him ready to play in this game. Tyren Jones did a good job in the last scrimmage.
"Really, Altee [Tenpenny] and Derrick Henry have gotten the most reps and are probably most prepared to be able to play right now. We have confidence in both of those guys that they can go in and play well."
The 6'3", 238-pound Henry is the more intriguing of the two. While he enrolled early and broke his leg in spring practice, Henry has the size to be a force in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
But with 4.54 speed in the 40-yard dash, he is surprisingly fast for a big guy.
Could he be a potential short-yardage specialist for this team, especially when Fowler shifts over to H-back against Virginia Tech? Absolutely, and he will likely ease into a true No. 2 role as the season progresses.
For now, though, that job may be Tenpenny's. At 6'0", 207 pounds, he's a true all-purpose back who provides nice insurance for Yeldon.
"Altee Tenpenny seems like he's a guy that seems to get it and is pretty well-rounded and has been able to grasp things and sort of learn quickly," Saban told Andrew Gribble of AL.com earlier this month.
He'll likely serve as a true backup right off the bat and gobble up those second-team carries if and when the Crimson Tide run and hide late in games.
Saban and Nussmeier are going to have their hands full with this group. All of them are talented enough to earn carries and diverse enough to allow the staff to get creative in how they're used.
Yeldon is the unquestioned No. 1 and can handle the load, but the coaching staff doesn't need him to.
Talk about a rich man's problem for Saban.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand from Alabama's weekly teleconference.
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