Alabama Football: Preview of the 2012 Running Backs
Alabama has become "Running Back U" in this new age of college football. Since Nick Saban arrived Alabama has churned out three NFL backs: Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram and soon-to-be Trent Richardson.
It only takes a brief look to realize that such a trend is going to continue as long as Nick Saban and running backs coach Burton Burns are around.
Here's a projection of the running back roster in 2012, with their future class listed.
First String: Eddie Lacy, Junior, 6'1
Some opposing fans will say that Alabama is in trouble, as the team is losing Trent Richardson to the NFL draft. Just like they were in "trouble" when Mark Ingram left, right?
Eddie Lacy isn't quite as powerful as Richardson, but a 220-lb running back with the agility of a 180-lb cornerback isn't anything to scoff at. He has more than enough power to truck SEC defenders, and he's one of the most elusive backs in the nation.
His nickname, "Circle Button," is a reference to his ability to execute a spin move in a fashion only seen in football video games.
Lacy's 2011 season has been all but derailed by turf toe, an extremely painful and lingering injury involving the joints in the big toe. Despite this, Lacy has averaged 7.51 yards per carry, good for 631 yards. He very well could have eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark as a backup had he remained healthy, but he's played eight games with the injury.
Lacy had issues with hanging onto the ball in 2010, but with solid coaching by Burton Burns Lacy seems to have moved past that, holding the ball high and tight.
As a biased Alabama fan, Eddie Lacy is my dark-horse pick for the 2012 Heisman Trophy and he seems to be the undisputed choice for the starting running back position.
Second String: Demetrius Hart, Freshman, 5'8
Demetrius Hart was sidelined for the entire season after he tore his ACL back in July during a seven-on-seven scrimmage. Before the injury he would have been the de facto third-string running back.
He's a speedy and elusive back, and quite strong for his size, but his size still makes one wonder if he can handle the way Alabama utilizes their running backs.
It is more likely that Dee will be used in more creative ways than simply running the ball up the gut. He has better hands than most wide receivers. Whomever Alabama brings in as the next offensive coordinator is sure to build plays specifically for Hart, and the results are sure to be jaw-dropping.
It wouldn't be far-fetched to say you might see him and Eddie Lacy in the backfield at the same time.
Hart will be one of the players competing for return duties as well.
He was rated as one of the best all-purpose backs in the nation because he really can do it all.
When he took the field during the 2011 spring game he looked like a miniature Trent Richardson, including the little ponytail poking out from under his helmet. He's not as powerful as Richardson is, but his potential and ability should enable him to lock down the second-string running back position.
Dee will be a redshirt freshman due to his injury, which will likely play a big part in Alabama's chances (or lack thereof) of landing Barry Sanders Jr., or any other big running back prospect for that matter. Hart is the future of Alabama's run game.
Third String: Jalston Fowler, Junior, 6'1
When Alabama lost two running backs prior to the 2011 season Jalston Fowler rocketed up the depth chart, and boy did he make good on his opportunity.
He remained the third-string back all season, racking up 385 yards on 56 carries. In 2012, he will most likely maintain that role.
He's a big and powerful back, and can get some solid yardage. Against stout defenses he would likely struggle, and the coaches seemed to think so as well.
When Eddie Lacy's injury prevented him from doing much in the Alabama-LSU game, Trent Richardson stayed on the field. Jalston Fowler had zero carries during that game. Fresh legs or not, the coaches didn't think he had a chance at crossing the line of scrimmage.
His style is pure downhill running. He has almost no lateral movement, and keeps his feet very close together at all times, which is not a good thing for running backs. This reason will keep him as a third-string option.
Fowler's size and experience could make him a powerful blocker, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him line up as a fullback under the new offensive coordinator. He has the ideal size for a fullback and is a threat to carry the ball as well.
Other Running Backs
Alabama is still a bit shallow in the running back department, believe it or not. The team has only three scholarship running backs. Here are some other players who may get some carries come game time.
Blake Sims, Sophomore, 6'1", 210 lbs.
Blake was an outstanding dual-threat high school quarterback, but his size limited the amount of schools that wanted him throwing the ball. He's going into his redshirt sophomore year, and after two years the coaches have yet to decide on a permanent position.
He looks to remain as a contributor at running back, and that may become his permanent position, but I see the coaches doing something else with him. If safety Robert Lester leaves early for the NFL (and there's not much reason why he shouldn't, he's a top-5 safety on many draft boards, top-3 on some) then the Tide will look a little thin in the defensive backfield.
A very interesting fact is that when Alabama was preparing to play LSU they did not use Sims to play the role of LSU's scrambling quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, during practice, despite the fact that Sims truly can run and throw (much better than Jefferson, I'd wager!). They used redshirting receiver Duron Carter.
Brent Calloway, Freshman, 6'1", 210 lbs
Calloway wants to be a running back, and that's why he switched his commitment to Auburn for a short period before recommitting to the Tide, but he's best-suited to play linebacker, and Nick Saban made that clear.
His run-in with the law over a marijuana incident may indicate he doesn't have the discipline required of a Saban linebacker, as they must study film relentlessly whereas the running backs do not.
Saban is brutal when it comes to discipline, and Calloway's future at the Capstone is still uncertain. Until further notice he is still in Saban's doghouse.
If he can correct his mistakes and play to his potential (which could easily involve the NFL) he will become one of Alabama's next great linebackers, and won't touch a football unless it's an interception or fumble recovery.
Nick Tinker, Junior, 5'10", 207 lbs
Tinker is a walk-on running back. He has the size yet lacks playing time. Running back isn't a position you learn; you either have "it" or you don't.
Ben Howell, Senior, 5'9", 202 lbs
Like Tinker, Howell is a walk-on. He's spent his career on the scout team. Though he hasn't helped the team during game time, his contributions on the scout team are certainly appreciated.
Justin Taylor, Freshman, 5'10", 205 lbs
Taylor is the final running back on the Tide's roster, but he's only a verbal commitment, and hasn't (and cannot) officially sign with the Tide just yet. He is the lone running back in the 2012 class.
Rivals lists him as a 3-star prospect, as does Scout.com. The stars he's rated by may prove to be silly, as Alabama recently had a 3-star prospect running back named Mark Ingram.
The odds of another dark horse like Ingram coming along are slim, but if anyone can make it happen it's the Tide's running back coach, Burton Burns.