TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Arguably the biggest news to come from Alabama’s pre-Christmas Sugar Bowl practices had nothing to do with anything that will affect that actual game, or any other game the Crimson Tide may play this postseason.
No, it came in the form of a 6’2”, 235-pound running back, an early Christmas present, if you will, for Nick Saban and his Alabama team.
Bo Scarbrough was going through drills with the running backs on Dec. 16, finally academically eligible after a whirlwind clearing process.
Scarbrough, a 5-star athlete originally from Tuscaloosa’s Northridge High School, transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, for his senior year. He had been committed to Alabama’s 2014 class since September 2012.
He was announced as a member of that class on national signing day, but never showed up on campus. Saban in early August said that Alabama had an appeal in place that “will take some time.”
That process appears to be behind Alabama now.
“Once a guy finishes all the things that he has to do by NCAA rules and is admitted to school, he's eligible to practice,” Saban said after that first day of Sugar Bowl practice. “He can't play. So while we're practicing here, he can participate in practices. This was his first day.”
Like Saban said, Scarbrough won’t be able to play with the team in New Orleans, or travel at all, but he can practice, giving himself a leg up even on class of 2015 early enrollees.
And looking at the roster, Scarbrough may have a chance to come in and play right away in 2015.
Scarbrough is an electric athlete and could succeed at a number of positions.
His primary options are likely on offense, at running back, wide receiver or H-back.
He likely is at running back right now out of necessity. Alabama lost Kenyan Drake for the year to a leg injury, and the team has been limiting T.J. Yeldon to give him a little bit more rest after a grueling season.
So it’s a numbers game for Scarbrough right now. Derrick Henry, Jalston Fowler and Tyren Jones are Alabama’s fully healthy backs right now, leaving few options for scout team work. Scarbrough was wearing Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott’s No. 15, so he’s already contributing in some fashion.
“Bo looked pretty good,” Fowler said after that first practice. “Those fresh legs were moving today. Everybody was just out there today, 'There goes those fresh legs.' He was moving so fast. And everybody else was just like—it was crazy though.”
But come 2015, he’ll have a lot of options.
He could end up settling in at running back. Yeldon is expected to go pro as a junior, as has become a trend for running backs looking to get to the next level with as little wear and tear as possible.
That would leave Henry, Drake and Jones as returning backs with significant game experience. And there’s somewhat of a long shot that Drake could turn pro, too, not wanting to risk another injury like Vinnie Sunseri the year before him.
Scarbrough could find a way to crack that kind of a running back rotation.
He could, though, have better luck at receiver.
Heisman finalist and Biletnikoff winner Amari Cooper is another expected early draft entrant. Around him, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones will be out of eligibility. That means Alabama will be looking to replace its top three wide receivers.
The next three options there currently on the roster would likely be ArDarius Stewart, Chris Black and Cam Sims. Those three have seen some playing time in spots this season when the previous three have been hurt or just for some fresh legs. But none of those options is a proven, slam dunk lock for playing time next year either.
Scarbrough could step in and have an impact in some sort of way.
If he wanted to make a fairly drastic change, he would probably have the most opportunities as a tight end or H-back.
Senior tight end Brian Vogler will be gone, and O.J. Howard is the only consistent option right now behind him.
On signing day, Alabama listed Scarbrough at 235 pounds. Alabama doesn’t have a tight end on its current roster listed at under 240 pounds. Scarbrough would have to add some mass as well as significantly hone his blocking if he wanted to play at that position. But it could offer him the quickest route to playing time.
If Scarbrough makes an impact on the team for the Sugar Bowl, it will be behind the scenes, giving the defense a talented, if raw, athlete to go up against in its on-campus preparations.
But 2015 will be his first crack at a tangible impact. And he will have plenty of options to do so.
Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.