Nick Saban’s offenses at Alabama have always featured two running backs with great number two options. Trent Richardson to go with Mark Ingram in 2010, Eddie Lacy with Richardson in 2011, and T.J. Yeldon to compliment Lacy last season. Saban has had the most success by this tactic of any coach in the nation over his period at Alabama. On the surface, it appears that could change, with a main number two option to Yeldon out of the question this season; Alabama could use more running backs than ever, with the deepest depth at that position in the land.
Earlier this week, iunior Jalston Fowler was shockingly named as Saban’s second team running back, yet Alabama has five other legitimate candidates to become Yeldon’s main support. Fowler lead the Crimson team with the most carries in Alabama’s spring game in April. Fowler’s primary responsibilities have been as a H-back/fullback/tight end in run support. Fowler and other running back Dee Hart were levied with season-ending knee injuries last season. Hart has had back-to-back injuries; he also had an ACL tear in 2011. Hart is set up on the three deep, but it’s difficult to pencil him in to play this weekend.
Missing from the three deep, let alone the team’s first two units, was Kenyan Drake. Drake seems out of the equation, even after playing in all but Alabama’s three games as a true freshman in 2012, and averaging 6.7 yards a pop. It’s beyond anybody to understand how the the 2011 Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year, is out of the mix after being Alabama’s third leading rusher behind Lacy and Yeldon last season.
The starter at the single back formation against Virginia Tech, Yeldon, is returning from one of the most brilliant freshman campaigns in school history. Yeldon broke the Alabama school freshman rushing record with 1,108 yards, and manufactured 12 scores to go with Lacy’s 17. Yeldon wrapped up his first season with back -to-back 100-yards in the team’s final two games against Georgia in the SEC Championship and Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship. Alabama has a host of true freshman at the position, that, just like Yeldon this time last year, are taking that first-year leap of faith.
Saban has said that freshman Derrick Henry and Altee Tenpenny have set themselves up for early playing time starting against Virginia Tech on Saturday. Bama nation considered Henry, the most attractable, to be the number two man, based off what unfolded last season as a senior at Yulee (FL) High. Henry broke a 51-year-old national record for career rushing yards, at an amazing 12,124 yards. Henry’s fall camp has lead some to say he might possess an even bigger ceiling than that other No. 3 running back from Florida (Richardson). A combination of Yeldon at 6-foot-2 and Henry at 6-foot-3 would give Doug Nussmeier the biggest running back pairing in the country. Henry might have been a clear cut choice to receive No. 2 like carries, if he hadn’t sustained a fractured fibula in his first spring camp. Tenpenny is a picture-perfect compliment to any running back at Alabama. Tenpenny is more of a finesse, space-eater type, rather than other freshman like Tyren Jones and Alvin Kamara, who are overpowering backs.
Jones and Kamara both stand 5-foot-9, and each are over 200 pounds soaking wet. Both are great inside zone runners. Each freshman’s abilities to be physical are reasons why it’s hard to juggle who gets the bulk of time in the backfield, because everybody is in good standing to do so.
Alabama averaged 228 yards rushing a game to their opponent’s 76 a year ago. It’ll be interesting to see how this running back rotation and three new offensive lineman gel with this game just around the horizon. Virginia Tech allowed less than 200 rushing yards in all but one conference game last season. Last year cemented Alabama’s second 3,000 rushing yard total in Saban’s tenure. In the 2009 meeting between both programs in the Georgia Dome, the Tide exploded for 268 yards in Alabama’s undefeated run.
Lacy received 204 carries to Yeldon’s 175 last season, but Alabama will share that wealth this season between this heavy stock of backs.