A Look At Tailback Depth In Spring

It was interesting to hear a Southeastern Conference observer discuss the three Alabama seniors-to-be who announced they were passing up their final seasons to enter the NFL draft.

One of those Alabama players who is not going to return for next season is tailback T.J. Yeldon. The SEC observer cobnsiders that “bad news” for the rest of the conference. It means those teams will be seeing more of Derrick Henry.

Yeldon, who had an excellent Alabama career as a one-year back-up to NFL sensation Eddie Lacy, and then started the past two years, was joined by wide receiver Amari Cooper and safety Landon Collins in announcing early departure for the NFL draft. None of this was a surprise.

The Crimson Tide will have to replace Yeldon’s 979 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns and 180 receiving yards and another touchdown from 2014, when he was injured part of the season. His career statistics are among the best in Bama history , 3,320 rushing yards, 37 rushing touchdowns, along with 494 receiving yards. His screen pass reception and run for a 28-yard touchdown with 51 seconds to play in a 21-17 win at LSU as a freshman is one of the memorable plays in Bama history.

Just as the SEC observer did, one first looks to Derrick Henry as the next man up at tailback. And he is a man, 6-3, 241. The former prep player of the year has not been in a disappointment in his first two years at Bama. Although he has started only three games (including this year’s Sugar Bowl), he is one of those players Alabama Coach Nick Saban would consider a first team player.

Henry had only 35 rushes as a freshman, but averaged an impressive 10.9 yards per carry. This season he rushed 172 times for a team-leading 990 yards (a solid 5.8 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns. He also caught five passes for 133 yards (26.6 yards per reception) and two touchdowns.

There may not be a lot of spring action for senior tailback Kenyan Drake (6-1, 202) after Drake suffered a broken leg against Ole Miss in the fifth game of the year and missed the rest of the 2014 season. He is making progress in his recovery and is expected to be full speed in 2015. Does that mean full speed at tailback?

It is understandable that some might think of as a possibility at a wide receiver position after Bama lost its three starting wideouts. His 87-yard catch-and-run on the first play of the Florida game would give rise to that speculation. Drake had only 22 carries before being injured, but those carries produced 112 yards (5.4 per carry) and four touchdowns. He also had five receptions for 159 yards for 159 yards (31.8 per catch) and two toucdowns. Drake has averaged 7.0 yards per carry for his career, 156 rushes for 1,087 yards and 17 touchdowns, and he has 17 career receptions for 294 yards (17.2 per catch) and three TDs.

Tyren Jones, who will be a third-year sophomore, moved up to the number three spot in the running backs rotation this season. In addition to tailback, he has been a regular on kicking teams. Jones, 5-9, 212, had runs in six games and carried a total of 36 times for 224 yards and two touchdowns.

Altee Tenpenny is another tailback who has gotten most of his playing time on special teams in his first two seasons, playing in 13 games, having rushes in four of them in 2014. The 6-0, 218-pound Tenpenny had 26 carries for 136 yards, 5.2 per carry. As a freshman he had 22 runs for 82 yards and a touchdown.

Spring practice will see the arrival of two running back prospects. Bo Scarbrough, 6-2, 235, signed originally a year ago, but sat out the season in Northport finishing up academic work at Tuscaloosa County. DeSherrius Flowers, 6-1, 210, from Vigor in Prichard, earned his high school degree in December and entered The University this spring.

Scarbrough and Flowers will go through the Fourth Quarter off-season program and spring practice, which gives them a leg up on a football career. Nevertheless, there are good players ahead of them…players who went through the same process Scarbrough and Flowers will.

There’s also the subspecies of Alabama running back, the fullback/H-back role played so well the past few years by Jalston Fowler.

Although Fowler came to Alabama as a tailback, the Tide also has used tight ends in the fullback role. At the end of the 2014 season, it looked as though Corey McCarron, a tight end best known as the brother of former Bama quarterback A.J. McCarron, might be the only fullback candidate this spring. He was a tight end at South Alabama before transferring to Alabama and is a 6-2, 245-pound senior.

It’s always possible that one of the tailbacks, like Fowler, could be converted to fullback.

And Saban added a new wrinkle to fullback discussion when he gave a post-2014 scholarship to former walk-on tight end/fullback Michael Nysewander (6-1, 230). Nysewander was listed as a senior but the assmption is that he will return for his fifth year of eligibility as a scholarshipped player. In 2014 he caught two passes for 21 yards, including taking a 12-yard pass from Jake Coker for a touchdown against Western Carolina.

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