Henry Picking Up Where He Left Off

When a football team loses its quarterback, the question for all fans revolves around the competition to find a new one. But this year at Alabama, where a replacement must be found for AJ McCarron, the primary question seems to be not about the quarterback candidates, but about the quarterbacks coach…who is also the offensive coordinator.

When Alabama sophomore tailback Derrick Henry went home to Yulee, Fla., for spring break, he said he was questioned about "how I'm picking up the offense and about Coach Kiffin." That would be Lane Kiffin, who was brought in this spring to run the offense.

Henry, 6-3, 241, said he told the inquisitors, "Everything is going well. I'm just picking up where I left off, improving as a player. Being a better student of the game. Coach Kiffin is a good coach and I'm trying to learn the offense. I'm trying to get better by learning the offense more and playing fast."

If Henry has picked up where he left off, that's good news for the Crimson Tide. Where he left off was an impressive Sugar Bowl performance in a losing effort against Oklahoma. He had eight rushes for 100 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown burst, and caught one pass for a touchdown. It was his first reception of the year, just a short toss, and he turned it into a 61-yard gain.

When one thinks of Kiffin, one thinks of what he'll do with the quarterbacks. Henry said he's doing something with the running backs, too.

"I feel like we're being used more," Henry said. "We're getting out running more routes, being one-on-one with the linebackers. Just getting out and being receiver-type running backs. I think it brings more to the offense because we're doing more than just running the ball."

As Henry in the Sugar Bowl.

Henry said that he has gained recognition since the Sugar Bowl performance. "I expected that," he said. "Whenever you have success playing college football, all of that (recognition) is going to come. I just worked hard and refocused and did what I needed to do to be successful. So I wasn't surprised at all.

"Of course I got noticed more for what I did in the Sugar Bowl. But I wouldn't be able to do that without my coaches and teammates helping me to get to that point and that moment to do what I did."

What Henry did was finish a decent freshman season on a high note. For the year he had 35 rushes for 382 yards, 10.2 per rush, for three TDs. And one memorable pass reception.

He was so impressive that a second big question going into the 2014 season is "Who will be the starting tailback?" T.J. Yeldon, an upcoming junior who started last year, is regarded nationally as a legitimate Heisman Trophy winner. Bama fans wonder if he can hold on to his first team position at running back or if he'll be the back-up to Henry.

Henry said that being a starter "is one of my goals, but right now I'm just focused on getting better and becoming a complete player so I can have that opportunity to be on the field more that I did last year. My main focus is getting better, become a complete back, and being a better student of the game so I can help this team win."

And there are other candidates, including Kenyan Drake, the upcoming junior Henry displaced as back-up prior to the Sugar Bowl.

Henry said, "We all do things a little bit different. We're all good at what we do and we're trying to get better. T.J. (Yeldon) has speed and power. (Kenyan) Drake has speed, agility and quickness. I'm just a power back. I got a little speed too.

"We're all just trying to get better, but we're bring something different because we're different backs."

Henry didn't come to Alabama as some unknown. At Yulee High School he rushed for 4,261 yards as a senior and finished with an all-time prep record of 12,124 yards. He was national player of the year in 2012 as he averaged 9.2 yards per carry and 327.8 yards per game rushing.

So he was used to being noticed in Yulee. "Yeah," he agreed. "I was the biggest guy in my town and really the only good athlete in my town. So, of course, you're going to get noticed."

Speaking of recognition, it didn't take Henry long to recognize the difference in college football from high school football when he arrived at Alabama.

"In high school, they have players that are good," Henry said. "But everyone isn't great like they are here. Everyone here was that guy at their school.

"During my first practice here, I was like 'Oh snap.'

"Everybody's flying around. Everybody. Linemen. Linemen moving fast. I was like 'Oh my god. Everybody moving fast.' Linebackers. Everybody was moving fast. I was like 'Good god.' After awhile, it got better and I started playing faster.

" It was kind of crazy. As you go on, you kind of get used to it and everything slows down. You start playing better."

Henry said his patience was tested last year as he had little early playing time. He said, "Me coming from high school and me being the guy then coming here and not getting that much playing time really taught me a lot. It humbled me. Everything isn't just going to come to you. You have to work for it. You have to take time.

"This is college football so it's more technique. You have to put more effort into by watching film and really paying attention to the little things like Coach (Burton) Burns and Coach (Nick) Saban preach. That's what I had to do to be able to get on the field and that's what I did."

Henry's teammate, inside linebacker Reggie Ragland, says that many defenders don't want to tackle Henry. The tailback was asked about that.

"Not here," he said. "Everybody here is physical. During the Oklahoma game, I could tell that they didn't want to tackle me. I just kept the mindset of being physical and keep running hard so everything will open up. I got some yards and I was able to get some touchdowns."

Lane Kiffin is no doubt aware.

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