Lack Of Suspense In Tailback Race
Alabama went into spring practice with no fewer than six possible running backs who were on scholarship. Before summer officially arrived, two of them had decided to transfer.
Demetrius Goode was in Coach Nick Saban's first Alabama signing class in 2007 and has been a favorite of Saban and his teammates. Goode was known as a hard worker and a team man. Nevertheless, in three years (following a redshirt first season) Goode had played in only 19 of 40 Crimson Tide games with 59 rushes for 272 yards.
Goode has been announced as a transfer to North Alabama, where he will be immediately eligible for his final season of college participation.
Also competing at tailback in the spring was 5-8, 194-pound redshirt freshman Corey Grant. Grant, a former track star as well as tailback, had been projected by analysts as a possible slotback. He didn't seem like a Saban tailback, which is a man who is powerful enough to run between the tackles. In very brief public appearances including A-Day, he looked more like a jitterbug than a North-South runner. Although Saban insisted he thought there would be a place for the play-maker, Grant will be transferring, perhaps to Auburn.
It is no secret that Trent Richardson steps into the role of starter held by former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. Usually portrayed as a "back-up," Richardson recently was described as Ingram's "sidekick," a testament to the talent of the upcoming junior. For at least a year, many – including a former Southeastern Conference defensive coordinator – have considered Richardson (5-11, 224) to be even more dangerous than Ingram.
In his first two seasons behind Ingram, Richardson ran 257 times for 1,451 yards (5.6 yards per carry) for 14 touchdowns and caught 39 passes for 392 yards and four touchdowns. He was better as a sophomore when he had 112 carries for 700 yards (6.2 yards per carry) with six touchdowns and 23 pass receptions for 266 yards and four touchdowns.
The back-up/sidekick role for 2011 has been generally conceded to Eddie Lacy, the 6-0, 220-pound upcoming sophomore, in great part because of his performance in the Capital One Bowl at the end of last season.
Lacy had an early reputation for fumbling, but has worked himself into a glue-fingered ball-carrier.
After being redshirted in 2009, Lacy had his first Alabama game action against San Jose State in last year's opener and had 13 rushes for 111 yards and two touchdowns. He had a spectacular close to the season against Michigan State in Orlando with five rushes for 86 yards (17.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns, even though he came into the game with Alabama offensively vanilla in the 49-7 romp.
Saban has said that Richardson is not likely to be used on kickoff returns this season. Last year he had 25 returns for 634 yards, a fine 26.4 yards per runback, and had a 91-yard touchdown return against Duke. There are a number of candidates for the kickoff return job, including Lacy.
Saban likes his running backs to be muscular, and Richardson and Lacy – like Ingram before them – fit the mold.
Jalston Fowler almost breaks the mold. Fowler is called "The Beast" by his Alabama teammates, and for good reason. The sophomore is 6-1 and 236 and has shown himself to be a load to bring down. Running, in fact, does not appear to be a problem. Although he had just 14 carries in his freshman season, he accounted for 111 yards, a nifty 7.9 yards per carry average. He had one touchdown on a 36-yard burst against Georgia State.
There has been speculation that Fowler could be used as an H-Back or fullback, providing blocking power, but in order for that to happen Fowler may need to prove himself to be a good blocker.
At the other end of the spectrum from Fowler is a young – and smaller – speedster.
During spring drills, it appeared the coaching staff was giving a lot of work to true freshman Dee Hart, who entered Alabama in January from Dr. Phillips High in Orlando. Saban frequently mentioned Hart (5-8, 185) as a punt return candidate. Although smaller than Grant, Hart was described by Saban as being a powerful runner. Still, he probably needs to get bigger and stronger before he finds a meaningful role in the tailback rotation.
A newcomer in fall camp will be last year's top prospect in Alabama, Brent Calloway (6-1, 217) of Russellville. Though Calloway had been considered by many to be a top candidate for linebacker in college, he has impressive credentials for tailback. As a senior he rushed for 1,974 yards and 29 touchdowns and as a junior rushed for over 1,600 yards with 32 touchdowns.
Walk-on Ben Howell had A-Day patrons checking the line-up when the 5-9, 202-pound junior from Gordo had a nice 27-yard run that was longest in the scrimmage.
This is one in a series of stories examining the 2011 Crimson Tide position-by-position.
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