Does Henry's Play Hinder Recruiting?
The reason, they say, is that Alabama will be giving the ball to Derrick Henry almost every run play for the next two years.
That's not very likely. It hasn't happened before. When Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram was running the ball for the Crimson Tide in the 2009 national championship season, that didn't mean that Trent Richardson wasn't getting plenty of players.
It sounds as though Alabama needs to be recruiting an Eddie Lacy, not a Roc Thomas, if Thomas really wouldn't consider Bama because of the competition. There has been no indication of a flip by Thomas, even though he got the first visit on Thursday from new Crimson Tide Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin.
Lacy came to Alabama when the Tide had Ingram and Richardson. Lacy measured up to the competition, so much so that in his first season with the Green Bay Packers he was selected as the NFL Rookie of the Year.
Still, one could understand a running back prospect being wary of the Alabama compeition. After Lacy left for the NFL last year (following the trend of Tide running backs going pro after their junior seasons), Bama was still in good shape with T.J. Yeldon, who had rushed for over 1,000 yards as a freshman, and Kenyan Drake, who had been the third back as a freshman and averaged 6.7 yards per carry.
Even with those coming back, and Dee Hart returning from injury, Bama was able to attract some outstanding tailbacks in last year's recruiting class.
Bama got the top two runners out of Georgia in Tyren Jones and Alvin Kamara, the top runner out of Arkansas in Altee Tenpenny, and – most impressively – the number one running back in the nation in Derrick Henry.
Henry's exploits at Yulee High were legendary. The national high school player of the year broke Ken Hall's 51-year national high school rushing record with 12,124 yards after running for 4,261 yards in his senior year.
The 6-3, 238-pound Henry didn't exactly burst onto the scene as a 2013 freshman. In Bama's first game of the year against Virginia Tech he had one carry. He didn't have a carry in the Tide's second game against Texas A&M. Against Colorado State in the third game he had one more carry, for four yards. He had two carries in the next game, against Ole Miss.
Finally, in the seventh game of the year against Arkansas, fans got a view of what Henry could do. He had six carries for 111 yards, notably an 80-yard touchdown run that was Bama's longest of the season.
Henry admitted that his lack of playing time early in the season "was frustrating," but blamed it on himself. "Not understanding," he said.
"Being a college back, there's more to it. Blitz pick-up, got to make reads, being disciplined. The little things are important in being a back. You have to be focused more, become a student of the game.
"I didn't do that. I thought everything would be handed to me. It's a different level than high school. I think as the season went on I got better."
He got particularly good in the Sugar Bowl. Although a disappointing season-ending loss for Alabama, Henry had an excellent game. In the third quarter he took a handoff at right guard, broke to the right to avoid a linebacker, and then out-raced a safety to the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown. In the fourth quarter he took a short pass from A.J. McCarron and broke tackles on a 61-yard touchdown play. It was his only pass reception of the year. He finished the game with eight carries for 100 yards.
For the season, Henry had 35 rushes for 382 yards, 10.9 yards per carry, and three touchdowns.
Following the Sugar Bowl, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, "Derrick had a really good Bowl practice. Actually we decided that he was our second best back going into this game, and we were going to give him an opportunity based on his performance in practice and what he had done and the confidence that he had gained throughout the course of the season in terms of knowing what to do and playing fast.
"He certainly had an outstanding game tonight and did a really good job for us, and I think he has a bright future."
Henry said, "Coach always told me to keep pushing, keep fighting, and every day, every practice keep on improving, and that's what I tried to do."
As is the case with most young tailbacks, the problem was not running. If Henry wanted to get on the field more, he had to learn the other things that a back has to do, notably understanding blitz protection and blocking assignments. Henry listed to his position coach, Burton Burns.
"Coach Burns told me to get in the meeting room and watch film with Coach Tim Castille (former Tide player, now a graduate assistant) and become a better student of the game, and that's what I did," Henry said. "Then when I get to practice I'm more prepared to learn my protections. I was more comfortable and more confident and worked hard."
Naturally, Henry's big touchdown plays are most memorable to fans. Henry, though, took as much pride in making a big block on an Oklahoma blitz as McCarron hit DeAndrew White on a 67-yard touchdown pass.
"That felt good," he said. "That's how hard work pays off. I did a lot of studying. All week I had done a good job of picking up the blitz. They give us a test where we could see Oklahoma's defense. I went out there to see what I could do."
Going forward, Henry said, he will "keep working hard. Don't get complacent. Keep striving forward. I've got a lot to learn. I'm thankful for the opportunity, but it's time to get to work. The season never stops for us. Like they say, ‘at Alabama we live it.' I'm ready to get back to work."
To be fair, Thomas may not flip to Alabama for reasons other than the competition. For one thing, the Tide did not recruit him hard as Bama thought it might be able to land the nation's number one tailback again, Leonard Fournette of New Orleans. But Bama lost Fournette to LSU. In any event, the Tide has a commitment from five-star tailback Bo Scarbrough. Also, Auburn lost its top back, Tre Mason, and Thomas has reportedly been told he will be the feature back for the Tigers next season.
Still, one can't help but think that some tailback prospects saw Henry in the Sugar Bowl and decided that was too much competition.
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