TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Much has been made about Alabama’s vaunted backfield this offseason.
There’s T.J. Yeldon, the returning starter who’s rushed for more than 1,000 yards in both of his first two seasons on campus and has a good chance at breaking Alabama’s career rushing record. And there’s sophomore Derrick Henry, a 6’3”, 241-pound beast of a human who, in his first significant game action of the season, rushed eight times for 100 yards and a score and took a screen pass 61 yards to the house against Oklahoma.
Lost in all of this has been Kenyan Drake, a junior who was Yeldon’s backup for most of last season and electrified with his speed, but whose fumbling issues relegated him for the Sugar Bowl. He didn’t help his cause with a July arrest for crossing crime-scene tape, either.
But he’s putting together a productive fall and shouldn’t be slept on in that talented backfield. That’s not to say that he’s going to explode to the top of the depth chart and take over the offense. Just that he still has a meaningful role, and his presence could give Alabama yet another dimension in its skill positions to make the offense even more dangerous.
Drake’s speed is his No. 1 asset, and he very much uses it to his advantage. When he came in off the bench as the No. 2 in 2013 and the No. 3 in 2012, he was always a threat to break the big play and did that several times.
“Kenyan, he has great speed,” tight end O.J. Howard said. “He's really a scatback kind of guy. He's really quick. He can make you miss with one move. He gets you open space, it's hard to bring him down.”
His yards per carry stats support that, too:
|Year||Carries||Yards||Touchdowns||Yards per carry|
What’s held Drake back, though, has been a combination of on- and off-field issues.
Off the field, while he hasn’t done anything too drastic, he hasn’t exactly had a clean slate either.
He was suspended for a late-season game against Western Carolina in 2012, his freshman year, for a violation of team rules that coach Nick Saban didn’t specify, though he said that Drake had already been warned once before. Last year, he didn’t make the trip to Atlanta for the season opener against Virginia Tech.
Then in July, he was arrested for obstructing governmental operations when police said he crossed crime-scene tape because his car was inside the marked-off area. Saban suspended Drake after the incident, but Drake was at practice to open fall camp and has been working with the team ever since.
The individual incidents on their own aren’t really cause for concern, but collectively they could be.
His biggest issue on the field is ball security. According to TeamRankings.com, Drake fumbled four times and lost three last season, but it was the timing that made them worse.
Against Kentucky, he fumbled inside the 5-yard line and on the goal line against Tennessee, killing two drives.
So it’s been a point of emphasis for Drake and the running backs as a whole this offseason.
"It's something that you drill in practice," Saban said, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com. "I think because you practice so much against each other, the better your defense is at finishing and trying to create turnovers, and the more ball awareness and ball security you actually develop on offense."
The fumbling and off-field issues seemed to make Drake a long shot to play meaningful snaps in 2014, but his fall camp performance might say otherwise. So far, he’s put up impressive stats in the two fall scrimmages.
|No. 1||6 carries, 88 yards, 1 touchdown||4 receptions, 65 yards|
|No. 2||Not provided||3 receptions, 77 yards, 1 touchdown|
Stats courtesy UA
Both scrimmages were closed to the public, so it’s difficult to put context to those numbers, though Saban did say that one of Drake’s touchdowns was a 65-yard reception, so he’s still making big plays.
How many yards will Kenyan Drake rush for in 2014?
He’s also drawn praise from his teammates, who note his explosiveness. Saban and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin also called him a “mismatch” player who could create problems.
And his presence would give Alabama three running backs with very different skill sets who could throw almost anything at opposing defenses.
“Drake's more of the speed guy,” Yeldon said. “Derrick's power and speed. And [Henry and I are] both power and speed, too.”
Drake seemed to get lost in the shuffle this offseason, but a productive Drake would just give Alabama another dimension to its offense.
Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.