From the moment the clock struck zero in Alabama’s disappointing Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, Tide fans looking ahead to the upcoming fall knew they had at least one big reason to smile—the breakout performance of running back Derrick Henry.
After racking up 161 yards of total offense and two touchdowns (one rushing and one receiving) on only nine touches against the Sooners, the biggest question entering spring practice was how Henry’s role would increase in 2014.
“Derrick Henry has had a fabulous spring,” Saban said. “He picked up right where he left off at bowl practice last year. He works really hard. He runs really hard. He plays with a lot of toughness. He gets it. Very conscientious guy. He sets a great example. “
That endorsement from his head coach speaks volumes about his potential to become an impact player this season.
However, with junior T.J. Yeldon—who has piled up 2,343 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground over his first two years—established as one of the nation’s top rushers, it will take a monumental effort for Henry to take over the starting role.
But as Alabama has proven throughout Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa, its ground game has been at its peak efficiency when relying on a two-headed monster in the backfield.
Players such as Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy and Yeldon each thrived as the change-of-pace back to the touted rushers in front of them, yet each capitalized on the move to the lead role when their time came.
As talented as those backs were, Henry is a rare breed.
Dealing with a 240-pound player blessed with vision, power and breakaway speed, new Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is charged with the task of making sure Yeldon, Henry and the rest of the Tide’s talented stable of backs get their touches.
Coming off his bowl performance and a strong display during spring practice, Henry appears to be in a strong position to hold off Kenyan Drake for the backup job.
If he does, expect him to see significantly more carries than the 36 he logged as a freshman.
Since 2008, Alabama’s lead back has season averages of 226 carries, 1,359 yards and 15 touchdowns. Over the same period, the No. 2 back has averaged 127 carries for 776 yards and nine touchdowns.
Regardless of how the depth chart shakes out, Henry will exit spring with a ton of ammunition for his case to become one of the Tide’s most trusted offensive weapons this fall.