Stuart McNair

Spring practice is not just about finding quarterback as Alabama replaces tailbacks

Alabama tailbacks Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris have limited experience

The Alabama football team returns to Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday for its second closed scrimmage of the spring. The scrimmage comes a week before Bama returns to the stadium for the April 16 A-Day Game.

Although nothing can be taken from the statistics released following the first scrimmage – particularly since the passing numbers of the quarterback candidates were withheld – it is believed that last week’s work was primarily on the passing game. The rushing statistics from a week ago included Bo Scarbrough having a big day with few carries as he picked up 96 yards on one touchdown run.

If – and it is an if – the emphasis last week was on the passing game, does that mean this week’s scrimmage will emphasize the run? Not necessarily. Alabama Coach Nick Saban has said he is more interested in the big picture of practice – effort, toughness, reducing mental errors.

The primary question of any Spring when there is a new starting quarterback coming in the following Fall is on that most important position. Saban pointed out following the first scrimmage that the men who have been in the program longest, fourth-year junior Cooper Bateman and third-year sophomore David Cornwell, were more successful than younger quarterbacks, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and true freshman Jalen Hurts, in the first scrimmage.

This is Lane Kiffin’s third spring as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. His track record in finding a new quarterback has been very good with Blake Sims setting Bama records and earning MVP of the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in 2014, Jacob Coker following with an MVP trophy from the SEC title game and leading Bama to the 2015 national championship.

Saban has pointed out that the streak of having to find a new quarterback should end at three years after Bama settles on the 2016 starter. Best guess is that won’t happen in the Spring, that it will go at least through Fall camp in August, perhaps longer.

Meanwhile, at least a big a question for Alabama’s offense is the tailback position. Losing Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry was almost like losing two tailbacks because of Henry’s durability. He broke SEC rushing records held by two former Heisman Trophy winners considered by many the two best in league history, Herschel Walker of Georgia and Bo Jackson of Auburn. Moreover, Bama lost Henry’s back-up, Kenyan Drake.


Scarbrough, 6-2, 230, and Damien Harris, 5-11, 214, are both sophomores who had limited experience in 2015 and who get the majority of carries in practice. Some help may come from others.


Ronnie Clark, 6-2, 217, a talented all-around athlete, may have been in that precarious position of being good enough to be tried at several positions, including safety. If he settles in at tailback, he’s a possibility for depth at the position.


Derrick Gore, 5-11, 212, joined Alabama last year from Coffeyville Junior College and is reported to be a solid performer at tailback.


Xavian Marks, a late arrival to the Tide as a freshman last fall, was listed as a 5-8, 163-pound tailback. That’s quite a bit smaller than the typical running back in a Saban offense, and this week the Tide coach said that Marks is working at wide receiver and kick returner. Marks, was a track star in high school and is a participant for the Bama track team as a sprinter.


There are a couple of others listed as running backs on the Alabama spring roster, walk-on juniors Ty Turner, 5-9, 171, and Lawrence Erekosima, 5-7, 180.


Thinking “what might have been” is not productive, but one can’t help but wonder how the tailback position might look without the transfers of the likes of the late Altee Tenpenny, Alvin Kamara (now at Tennessee), and Tyren Jones.

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