Headliner: TJ Yeldon (SO.)
Who To Watch: Derrick Henry (FR.)
The Alabama Crimson Tide’s first Heisman Trophy winner came in the person of Mark Ingram, the latest in a long line of great Tide backs. The running back position has been one of the key positions in the Nick Saban era, with such great backs as Glen Coffee, Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy.
You can already add T.J. Yeldon to that list as well. In 2012 Yeldon and Lacy combined for 2,430 yards and 29 TDs, outgaining 10 of the other 13 SEC teams themselves. Yeldon’s 175 carries, 1,108 yards and 12 TDs was good for ninth in the league in rushing yards (tied for fourth in rushing TDs) despite sharing carries with Lacy.
Yeldon is unquestionably one of the top backs in the country going into 2013. Yeldon’s unique straight up and down, fluid running style is reminiscent of Eddie George. This unique style along with speed and great hands make him one of the most complete backs Saban has had at Alabama, but having multiple backs that can handle the load has been a staple of Alabama under Saban.
In 2008 it was Coffee and then-freshman Mark Ingram. In 2009 it was Ingram and then-freshman Trent Richardson. In 2010 it was Ingram and Richardson (along with Lacy), and in 2011 it was Richardson and Eddie Lacy. Last season it was obviously Lacy and Yeldon.
In 2013 Yeldon may carry the majority of the load, but the tailback position is one of the deepest spots on Alabama’s roster. The only problem with that depth is that injuries have plagued the players behind Yeldon.
Dee Hart missed all of 2011 with an ACL tear after the Spring, and then missed the final nine games of the season after undergoing knee surgery again. Hart was able to come back from the first injury and seemed to regain his speed before this second injury, so the question is whether he can regain that speed. Hart is a shifty tailback that could be a valuable change of pace, in contrast to the other bruising backs on Alabama’s roster, as well as a return man in the kicking game.
Jalston Fowler could be the most versatile player on the Alabama roster, and if back to 100 percent, he could be the most valuable as well. Before blowing out his knee in 2012 Fowler played tailback, fullback, and H-back for the Tide. He’s a bruising, powerful back that is almost unstoppable as a lead blocker at FB and adds another dimension to the offense. His speed is also staggering for a 250+ pound back. He seems to have gotten close to 100 percent and had almost all season to rehab the knee injured so early in 2012.
Kenyan Drake played mostly in garbage situations in 2012 but his speed and shifty running style stood out to Tide fans, and 2013 could see a rise in carries for the sophomore tailback if Hart isn’t back to full strength.
The stable of backs gets younger after this, but the talent depth definitely doesn’t drop off. Alabama signed a group of extremely talented tailbacks in the 2013 class.
Derrick Henry was the unquestioned headliner of the deep group and his incredible size (6-foot-3, 238 lbs.) combined with the speed he showcases makes him a truly unique specimen at tailback. With Henry, Fowler and Yeldon, Alabama has three tailbacks over 6-foot-1, with Yeldon and Henry both over 6-foot-2. Despite being one of the top recruited tailbacks in the country, many felt his eventual destination at the college level would be the linebacker position. For now, he has remained at tailback. He did suffer a setback at the end of the Spring, breaking his fibula, but both he and Nick Saban continue to say he will be fully healthy for the start of Fall camp.
If Henry isn’t healthy there are two other freshmen tailbacks that may be poised to fight for playing time; Georgia natives Tyren Jones and Alvin Kamara, and Arkansas native Altee Tenpenny. Both Jones and Kamara are smaller, speedy backs while Tenpenny is a big, bruising back.
There’s no question that someone is redshirting in 2013 but the question is how many of them will and who has a shot at getting on the field early. With a stable of backs every team in the country would dream of, figuring out who to put on the field is a nice problem to have.