No one in the Alabama camp could be anything short of ecstatic over the season that Derrick Henry had for the Crimson Tide. He became the all-time leading rusher and touchdown scorer in Southeastern Conference history and won every award imagineable, including the Heisman Trophy, in leading Bama to the national championship.
Alabama faithful also had to be thrilled that Kenyan Drake was able to overcome tough injuries in his junior and senior seasons and return to be a major force in the Tide’s 14-1 title season.
The bad news is that both are gone, Henry departing after his junior (and lone fulltime starting season at Bama) for the NFL and Drake completing his eligibility.
There have been seasons when Alabama did not return its featured running back. When Mark Ingram left for the NFL, he was replaced by Trent Richardson. Richardson went to the NFL and was followed by Eddie Lacy. Following Lacy’s departure, T.J. Yeldon stepped in. And following Yeldon this past season was Henry, who had been a 1,000-yard rusher (and the Tide’s leading scorer) as Yeldon’s back-up in 2014.
That is not the case this season. It may be that no college football team has a bigger job of replacing its running backs than does Bama. In 2015, Tide running backs ran for 1,923 yards (most of it Henry’s 2,219) and Bama returns only about 10 per cent of that rushing yardageby tailbacks, 296 yards. Alabama will go into spring practice next month with very little experience at the tailback spot, a situation made perhaps more critical by the search for a new quarterback for the 2016 campaign.
Alabama’s 2016 running backs class COULD have included Derrick Henry, Tyren Jones, Alvin Kamara, and Altee Tenpenny, not to mention Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris.
So what happened? Jones, Kamara, and Tenpenny seemed to see the writing on the wall, that they weren’t going to be good enough to beat out any of those in front of them, and all transferred. Kamara is at Tennessee and Jones at Georgia. Tenpenny, tragically, was killed in an automobile crash last fall after having left Alabama.
Most expect one of two upcoming sophomores to emerge from spring practice as No. 1, although it is possible that the issue will not be settled until closer to the season. Historically, Alabama Coach Nick Saban has used at least two running backs in his offense.
The most experienced returning back is Damien Harris (5-11, 205), who was one of the top running back signees in last year’s class. He did have some playing time when the game was on the line last fall, but for the year had only 46 carries for 157 yards and one touchdown. He had a long run of 41 yards against Middle Tennessee.
Harris also caught a four passes, although for only 13 total yards, and had nine kickoff returns for 174 yards.
In local lore, one would have to go back a couple of decades to Dennis Riddle to find a running back from Tuscaloosa with greater expectations than those for Bo Scarbrough. Although Scarbrough (6-2, 240) was unable to play in Bama’s first four games, he showed occasional flashes of being a Henry-type back. His season statistics, though, were a modest 18 carries for 104 yards (5.8 yards per carry) and one touchdown with a long run of 24 yards.
Sophomore Ronnie Clark (6-2, 228) is a talented athlete who was used at running back in the final moments of three games last fall with a total of five carries for 20 yards. He had been expected to be a defensive back when he arrived at The University prior to the 2014 season, but missed all that year with an Achilles injury. He could be used on offense or defense.
A late addition to the roster for last fall was tailback Xavian Marks (5-6, 165), who came with credentials at least as glittering for his work as a track sprinter as for football. He played in the Charleston Southern game with one carry for no gain, but caught two passes for 19 yards.
Derrick Gore (5-11, 210) came to Alabama last year as a sophomore transfer from Coffeyville (Kansas) Junior College. He played in five games seeing special teams coverage work and had rushes in three games, a total of six carries for 15 yards.
Also on the roster last season were tailbacks expected to return as juniors, Lawrence Erekosima (5-7, 175) and Brandon Turner (5-9, 171).
Alabama has it’s a-Day Game in Bryant-Denny Stadium on April 16.
NEXT: The spring outlook for wide receivers.