Tailback Depth Looks Shallow In Spring

“Why?” whine fans of opposing schools. The bigger question for them, “Why does Alabama sign so many running backs, including getting the one who will be a starter/star for us and looks to be down the depth chart for the Crimson Tide?

The truth of the matter is that Alabama wouldn’t be able to sign those running backs if they didn’t want to be part of the Crimson Tide stable. Bama’s recent history of moving runners from mop-up to back-up to starter to National Football League has a lot to do with it. And Alabama signs a lot of running backs because the Tide uses a lot of running backs.

The history of Nick Saban is playing two and three tailbacks in his system, the only caveat being that the players have to earn the playing time.

T.J. Yeldon is currently working his way through the process leading up to the NFL draft in hopes of following Eddie Lacy and Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram into The League.

Meanwhile, a handful of Crimson Tide players is eyeing the start of spring practice on March 13, a major part of the process of earning playing time – perhaps starting status – for the 2015 Bama football team.

Make that a small handful of running back candidates.

The leader of the pack heading into spring practice is the man who finished last season as Bama’s leading rusher. Derrick Henry, a 6-3, 238-pound upcoming junior, was ostensibly Bama’s No. 2 tailback last year behind Yeldon, and Henry will wear No. 2 this year (switching from his previous No. 27).

Last year Henry rushed 172 times for 990 yards, which is 5.8 yards per carry, and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 5 passes for 133 yards, 26.6 yards per reception, and 2 TDs. In his two years as a back-up, Henry has run the ball 207 times for 1,372 yards, 6.6 yards per carry.

The problem is not Henry. The question is who will be the second and third and, perhaps, fourth men in the rotation.

In the spring, it isn’t likely to get to four. At the end of last season, Alabama said goodbye to No. 2 rusher, Yeldon; No. 3 rusher, quarterback Blake Sims, who completed his eligibility; and No. 5 rusher, Altee Tenpenny, who elected to transfer. Prior to the start of spring practice the Tide was without Tyren Jones, last year’s fourth-leading rusher (36 carries, 224 yards, 6.2 per carry, 2 TDs), when Jones (5-9, 215, sophomore) was indefinitely suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

No. 6 in rushing last year, senior Kenyan Drake (6-1, 201), had his season cut short after rushing 22 times for 112 yards, 5.1 per carry, and 4 touchdowns and catching 5 passes for 159 yards and 2 touchdowns, including the 87-yard bomb to open the 42-21 win over Florida. Drake suffered a broken leg against Ole Miss and suspicion is that he will go through all work in the spring, but probably have limited contact.

Two of the three running back 2015 high school recruits have entered The University and will take part in spring practice. Bo Scarbrough, 6-2, 235, and DeSherrius Flowers, 6-1, 210, will participate and have an opportunity to put themselves high up on the depth chart for next season. A third running back signee, Damien Harris (5-11, 205) of Berea, Ky., will join Bama this summer.

And, of course, there is Buddy Pell, a walk-on who was impressive as a freshman practice player last year and was given two runs in mop-up work last season. Want to know who led the Tide is yards per carry in 2014? Buddy Pell. His two runs were good for 15 yards, an average of 7.5 per carry.

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