TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For an offense that is tasked with replacing nine starters from a record-setting offense, Alabama got some much-welcome and even surprising news on Friday.
Running back Kenyan Drake was practicing with the team and appeared to go through drills normally just five-and-a-half months after suffering a gruesome leg injury against Ole Miss. You can relive the graphic injury if you so choose here.
Drake’s recovery is remarkable given the severity of the injury and how long it actually took him to do so.
But it’s also a big boost to a Crimson Tide offense in desperate need of playmakers, and Drake was just that last year before his injury.
“Kenyan is really doing better and better,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said after Friday’s spring opener. “He actually ran 4.4 when he timed the guys the other day. He's doing really well, getting his speed back.
“Probably can't sustain it, because he's not been able to do the same level of conditioning. He has done all the conditioning in the offseason program. He just hasn't been able to do it to the level of the other players.
“I think he's going to get more and more confident. We were really, really pleased with the progress that he made and what he was able to do in practice today.”
Drake was arguably offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s favorite toy last year.
Through four games and change—before his injury—he averaged more than five yards per carry and had four touchdowns on the ground. He had also caught five passes for 159 yards and a touchdown, including this beauty against Florida:
That single play defines Drake’s career up to this point, and it’s a good representation of everything he brings to the table.
He was motioned out of the backfield, where the defense had a linebacker assigned to him. Said linebacker followed him out to the flat. Drake put a wide receiver-like double move on him and used his speed to burn the rest of the secondary for an easy touchdown.
Drake is a threat as a running back but is very much versatile enough to be used in a lot of different situations, creating a lot of headaches for defenses.
He gets a lot of comparisons to recent San Francisco 49ers signing Reggie Bush, and in some ways, they are very fair. He has the speed to make you account for him every time he's on the field.
That speed was the question following his injury.
It’s tough to figure out how much stock to put into Saban’s 4.4 comment, but even if he was still in that range, it would be incredibly impressive considering how far he’s come. Players who are staying routinely run pro-day drills after their outgoing counterparts work out for scouts.
If the time is true, or even close, it shows that there won’t be much of a drop-off—if any—in Drake’s speed which made him so dangerous.
“He did good,” center Ryan Kelly said after the first day of spring practice. “That was a pretty serious injury and I never saw him get down on himself or anything like that. It was always positivity. I know he’s been running and practicing, stuff like that. It’s amazing to see how far he’s come.”
Drake likely won’t be able to be 100 percent during all of spring practice, like Saban pointed out. He is still getting back in the groove conditioning-wise after riding around on a scooter for much of his recovery.
Still, it’s very much a positive development. Not only for him, but for an offense that will be happy to showcase him in 2015.
Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.