Earlier today, the Alabama Crimson Tide announced the news of redshirt freshman Dee Hart and sophomore DeAndrew White being out of the season with knee injuries. White was injured in the first half of the game against Ole Miss and had to be carted to the locker room.
Hart was injured on a punt return, and while it didn’t look like it was that serious when he got off the turf and jogged off the field, it turned out to be Hart’s second devastating knee injury in as many seasons at the Capstone. Hart tore his ACL before the start of last season and received a medical redshirt.
While Hart and White aren’t irreplaceable commodities, they both had been meaningful contributors through five games in 2012. DeAndrew White actually earned a starting role at wide receiver, but even though he is listed as a starter on the depth chart, White only had 8 catches for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns so far this season.
The way AJ McCarron has spread the ball around in 2012, it really hasn’t mattered who the Crimson Tide have ran out on the field at receiver. Freshman Amari Cooper had his breakout performance against the Rebels on Saturday with 8 receptions for 84 yards and two touchdowns, and for all intents and purposes appears to be McCarron’s go-to-guy now.
Alabama still has four good options on the outside with Cooper, Kevin Norwood, Kenny Bell, and Christion Jones. The loss of White does potentially open up the door for true freshman Cyrus Jones, who hasn’t seen the field much this year. Marvin Shinn and Danny Woodson are two others who should get an opportunity at playing time.
However, White was also a contributor on special teams, and earned one special teams player of the week honor as determined by the coaching staff. Alabama will also have to fill that role, and that is a scary thought considering how shaky the Tide’s kick coverage has been the last few years.
Dee Hart had really been playing well for the Crimson Tide, and you have to feel bad for him after how hard he worked to get back on the field after last season’s knee injury. Hart was the team’s third leading rusher behind Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon with 88 rushing yards to go along with 18 receiving yards.
Hart had earned every rushing attempt he got so far, and was really helping to fill in the void left after Jalston Fowler was lost for the season against Western Kentucky. Hart was playing exceptionally well on special teams for Alabama in kick coverage the first few weeks and looked to have supplanted Christion Jones as the team’s starting punt returner. Hart had 4 punt returns for 50 yards this year. Obviously, expect Jones to move back to the starting punt returner.
Moving up on the depth chart with Hart gone will be true freshman Kenyan Drake, who has looked great when he has gotten the opportunity to carry the football. Drake has 13 rushes for 126 yards (9.7 YPC) and 3 touchdowns.
His most impressive performance came against Arkansas where he led the team in rushing with 57 yards and ran against the Razorbacks’ first team defense in the third quarter.
I’ve been saying for a while now that Kenyan Drake needed more touches, and now it appears that he has his opportunity as the third running back in the rotation. The only thing that seemed to be keeping Drake off the field was his pass blocking according to Nick Saban, but he has shown an electric ability as a runner.
To ease concerns about the depth issue at running back, we will probably see redshirt freshman Brent Calloway move to the backfield. Calloway had been primarily playing H-back this year, and saw some meaningful snaps against the Rebels on Saturday night. Calloway nearly had his first career touchdown on a pass from McCarron.
Some people have suggested that Alabama move Blake Sims over to running back again, but Sims seems to be firmly entrenched at quarterback right now with Phillip Ely not being able to wrestle away the backup quarterback job.
There is also walk-on running back Ben Howell, but it isn’t likely he will ever see a meaningful carry in Tuscaloosa barring another devastating injury.
Look for the coaching staff to lean more heavily on Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon for the ground game with the occasional carries for Kenyan Drake, and then garbage time carries for Calloway and Howell.
Alabama should be able to sustain without DeAndrew White and Dee Hart, with Alabama having good depth at both positions of injury. Of course, Alabama’s depth does take a hit with these guys out and, especially at running back, another significant injury could be potentially devastating to the ground game.
The rest of the way just hope for good health for the Crimson Tide. Any National Championship season requires injury luck, and so far in 2012 the Tide have had none with five players being lost to season-ending injuries, which is the most since Nick Saban has been at Alabama and we are only five weeks into the season.
Fortunately, Alabama has a bye week to focus on getting guys with minor injuries healthy before they travel to Columbia to take on Missouri.
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