After delivering a breakout performance in the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, rising sophomore running back Derrick Henry enters his second spring practice at Alabama with plenty of fanfare.
His bowl effort was one that validated the tremendous hype that preceded his freshman campaign. After the Sugar Bowl, Henry admitted to Michael Casagrande of AL.com that his debut season on the college level was tougher than he anticipated.
"I thought everything would be handed to me," Henry said. "It's a different level here than in high school. As the season went on, I got better."
Despite a backfield loaded with talent and depth, Nick Saban and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will undoubtedly enter spring practice searching for ways to get the 6’3”, 238-pound Henry more involved with the offense in 2014.
Henry arrived in Tuscaloosa last January with top billing after a record-breaking career at Yulee (Fla.) High School.
As a true freshman, Henry spent time spelling the likes of T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake. However, despite registering just 35 carries, Henry averaged almost 11 yards per carry and recorded four total touchdowns.
The bowl performance against the Sooners, in which he piled up 100 yards on eight carries and a touchdown, with another score coming on a 61-yard reception, provided a glimpse of what he’s capable of.
Why He’s Special
A glance at Henry’s physique reveals a back who has the frame and strength necessary to be a bruising type of running back and an asset in pass protection.
While those traits are apparent, what allows him to separate himself from the “big back” label is his explosiveness and breakaway speed.
Despite his size, he has great initial burst and, as his lone reception in the Oklahoma game illustrated, he’s nimble and elusive in the open field as a receiver.
It is this package of attributes that makes Henry rare even at a school such as Alabama that has enjoyed a recent string of All-American rushers.
Yeldon enters his junior season as one of the nation’s best running backs and a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, but Henry is talented enough to earn his share of carries if he wins the backup role in the spring.
With another proven candidate in Kenyan Drake returning, and a handful of younger backs such as Altee Tenpenny and Tyren Jones on hand, Henry can’t afford to take his foot off the gas in what should be a heated competition for carries.
Considering he made enough of a leap during the practices leading up to the Sugar Bowl to supplant Drake as Yeldon’s chief backup, in addition to his subsequent performance, Henry enters the spring as the favorite to hold on to the backup role. Regardless of how the preseason competition goes, expect Henry to use spring ball to push Yeldon for the starting job and make his case to field a heavier workload this fall.
This spring is critical for Henry to keep building momentum to bolster his case to become one of the offense’s most trusted weapons.
His continued development will be one of the focal points for the Tide’s offensive staff in the coming months.
If Henry continues to progress in the spring, he has a chance to mold himself into a dominant player who is capable of having a monster second year as he does the heavy lifting with Yeldon.