Back in 2007, Nick Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa, Alabama finished a paltry eighth in the conference in rushing behind freshman Terry Grant and sophomore Glen Coffee.
One year later, though, Coffee rushed 1,383 yards and combined with true freshman Mark Ingram to form the league’s best running back combination. The 2009 season brought more of the same as Ingram paired with freshman phenom Trent Richardson to again provide the league’s best tandem. (And oh yeah, Ingram won the Heisman Trophy that season.)
A knee injury limited Ingram’s production in 2010, but the Tide’s talent train was rolling as freshman Eddie Lacy joined Ingram and Richardson to form the most talented, if not productive, backfield in the country.
Richardson rushed for a school-record 1,679 yards in 2011 and Lacy rushed for 674 yards with an incredible 7.09 yards per carry.
Last year, the Tide had two 1,000 yard rushers as Lacy spun his way for 1,322 and another freshman phenom, T.J. Yeldon, added 1,108.
This year, Yeldon returns – and he may be the most talented back in the country, but for the first time since 2008’s opener against Clemson, we don’t yet know who’ll be the Tide’s top back up back.
But don’t feel sorry for Bama because the Tide has a stable of backs. In addition to Yeldon, the Tide returns:
* Kenyan Drake
* Jalston Fowler
* Dee Hart
* Derrick Henry
* Altee Tenpenny
* Tyren Jones
Drake was the team’s third leading rusher last year with 281 yards and five touchdowns that mostly came in wrap-up time. Fowler was the team’s designated battering ram before being lost for the year to a knee injury. Likewise, former five star Dee Hart was having a promising season before suffering his second season-ending knee injury in a row.
Five star Henry arrives as the country’s all-time leading high school rusher after running for more than 12,200 yards. Wow.
Incoming freshmen Tenpenny and Jones are only four star backs, though, according to 247.com, Tenpenny was the fifth ranked back in the country and Jones was the sixth.
Like I said, don’t feel sorry for Bama.
Instead, feel sorry for the Tide coaching staff members who have to divide up carries for this bunch.
Alabama had a similar problem last season before injuries claimed the seasons of Hart and Fowler. Lacy was returning from a toe injury, but was expected to be the feature back, despite the presence of several other talented runners. Yeldon had an impressive spring, Hart looked to be a change-of-pace back not seen in the Saban era, and Fowler was expected to be a sledge hammer with legs. Drake was a highly recruited back, but realistically wasn’t expected to contribute much.
As we know, injuries came along and changed all that. Lacy started a bit slow, but played like an All-American by season’s end. Drake made the most of his mop-up duty time. And Yeldon made us think he could be the best back to ever play at Bama. Certainly he had the best freshman season in Tide history.
So what about 2013? Yeldon is for sure the feature back, but who helps him carry the load? After all, unless Doug Nussmeier unveils the wishbone, there’s not much of a chance seven backs play each Saturday.
First though, we need to remember what it takes for a back to play for Nick Saban: He must run hard – north – south, that is, and to the right spot, be able to block, and be able to catch the ball.
With that said, who plays behind Yeldon? Here’s my guess:
* I hope I’m absolutely wrong, but I’m not expecting much from Fowler and Hart. It’s just hard for me to see them being relied upon coming back from knee injuries. Hopefully, as the season progresses, we’ll see more from them, but I’d be surprised to see much of them against Virginia Tech.
* I see either Tenpenny or Jones redshirting. I think both are very talented, but I don’t see them with meaningful playing time unless the injury bug hits again. However, if either proves to be more explosive than Drake, that could change things.
* That leaves Drake and Henry. Drake didn’t make the impact as a freshman of say, Ingram or Yeldon, but he made the most of his playing time and gained valuable experience. He showed a nose for the end zone, but really never carried the ball in crunch time. Given his experience, though, he probably has a head start in the race. Henry is also coming back from an injury, but it’s not as serious as a knee. I think Henry is special and if he comes back healthy, i think he plays and he plays a lot.
See what I mean? Seven quality backs that could play and play a lot at most every other school in the country.
What a great problem to have.