Drake Making Progress Towards Return

A familiar site on Alabama football practice fields is the black jersey. It signifies “no contact.” All the quarterbacks wear a black jersey, because it is the nature of that position to be most vulnerable; not to mention that quarterback is the most important position. It’s one thing for defenders to know not to hit the quarterback. It’s another thing when the black jersey is on a running back.

Alabama senior tailback Kenyan Drake has been in a black jersey all season. He was last tackled in Bama’s game at Ole Miss, suffering a broken leg. Now he’s back and part of the story of a depleted running back position and he’s the number two tailback behind Derrick Henry.

There is a question as to how much participation Drake will have as the Crimson Tide concludes spring practice with it’s a-Day Game Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. What is known, though, is that Coach Nick Saban has plans to make Drake an important part of the offense.

Drake, 6-1, 210, from Powder Springs Ga., played in only five games last season before being injured. He has played in 29 games in his Crimson Tide career, though with only two starts. He has made the most of his playing time. As a freshman in 2012 he averaged 6.7 yards on each of his 42 carries. The next year he had 92 rushes and averaged 7.5 yards per carry. Last season he had only 22 runs for a 5.1 average, but caught 5 passes for a gaudy 31.8 yards per reception, helped along by the dramatic 87-yard touchdown on the first play of the game, igniting 42-21 win over Florida.

Drake said he had no doubts about coming back from his 2014 injury. “I feel we have the best athletics support staff in the country, and they are going to do their jobs to help me get back to where I need to be,” he said. “I’m not 100 per cent there yet, but I appreciate everything they’ve done for me to this point, and I’m happy to be back on the field with my teammates.”

Drake said the toughest part of the rehabilitation was not the physical. “Being patient,” he said. “This definitely has taught me a lot. I wished I could be out there with my teammates during the toughest times last year. I was trying to be there mentally to give them support.”

The patience part ended when Drake was able to take the field for spring practice, albeit in a slightly restricted role with the black shirt. Saban has pointed out in the past that being in a black shirt doesn’t mean that the player doesn’t do all the work of other players; just that there isn’t a tackle.

Drake said he is pleased with the progress. He said his leg “feels great. Obviously, I’m not 100 per cent yet. That won’t come until later on, in the fall. But everything to this point has been great. My leg has responded well. I’m happy to be out there.”

Athletes who suffer leg injuries ordinarily get straightaway speed back sooner than the ability to make cuts. And sometimes that can be stressful. Not for Drake, though.

“I really didn’t think about it,” Drake said. “It seemed that once I put on those pads and helmet, I was back to normal. Sometimes I’m reminded of it. As with anything you have to work through it.

“I can run straight line pretty well. The cutting brings a little difficulty, but at the end of the day I feel pretty normal. When I’m out there it’s just having to work through the soreness, which is pretty typical. My cutting, people tell me I look normal. I don’t feel normal, but if it looks normal, I’m happy with that progress.”

Saban noted that Drake was timed before spring practice started and Drake turned in a 4.4-second clocking in the 40-yard dash.

Talk has been open from Saban and from Tide players about the likelihood of Drake and Henry being used together in a backfield formation. Henry said in that case the defense will have a problem, not knowing where or how the play will be coming.

Drake was not very forthcoming about how he might be used. He has worked with wide receivers during spring practice, though most of his time has been with running backs. “I’m just trying to get on the field and help my team in any way possible — running back, receiver, special teams. I like being on the field in any possible way, receiver or running back. If I line up wide or if I’m in the backfield, as long as I’m helping my team win, that’s all that matters.

“We look forward to whatever Coach Kiffin (Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin) has up his sleeve.”

Drake got a taste of that last year before being injured. “I really embraced it,” he said. “I like being out there and being versatile. Personally, I think it will help me move forward in my football career, and it definitely helps my teammates out because I can give them a breather by being versatile, being a receiver or a running back.”

Drake said Alabama’s success with running backs motivates men at the position. “We all have personal aspirations,” he said. “Once you get on the field you want to be the best you can possible because at the end of the day if the NFL wants to give us a look, we’ve got to give it our best effort. But that’s not up to us. That’s up to the next level. But we’re worried about what’s going on right now.”

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