At running back this season, T.J. Yeldon set fire to the gridiron as a freshman, racking over 1,000 yards rushing last season. His numbers combined with junior Eddie Lacy gave Bama two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time. Add this to his 11 touchdowns and you have more than hope for the Bama football as we look to 2013.
Yeldon became the first true freshman to run for more than 100 yards in his debut game in a 41-14 victory over Michigan. Though Eddie Lacey was the bell cow of the 2012 Alabama team, Yeldon provided the “2” in the “1-2″ punch we’ve come to expect from Nick Saban’s offenses. Being just a true sophomore, Yeldon can elevate his game. Gaining more tutorship from Tide running back coach Burton Burns means further development, and if it’s an area Alabama football excels over other programs, it’s in player development. What we saw of Yeldon in 2012 was somewhat raw. Now we get to see the player develop under the positions coach who has sent incumbents Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and Eddie Lacey into the early rounds of the NFL draft.
With Yeldon obviously assuming the role as the starter, he’s flanked by someone unknown and unproven bevy of backs. Kenyon Drake is an exciting runner who showed flashes of promise in 2012, averaging 6.7 yards a touch. Junior Jalston Fowler, a jackhammer of sorts, possesses power behind his 242 lb. frame, averaging 7.2 yards a carry in his career at Bama. The highly touted Dee Hart has shown elusive quickness, but like Fowler saw his 2012 season end in injury. So as Bama enters 2013, with Drake’s need to improve his blocking protection, and the other two experienced backs needing to prove they can sustain a season without significant injury, there are definitely question marks.
Tide fans are excited about the crowd of new running backs from the 2013 signing class, which include the mammoth Derrick Henry, Tyren Jones, Alvin Samara, and Altee Tenpenny, all freshmen. But like Fowler and Hart, Henry’s spring was cut short due to injury.
If he returns healthy this year Fowler will be great addition to Yeldon in the backfield. Alabama looked impressive when it ran the I-formation before Fowler’s injury. Fowlers ACL tear last season was one of the worst that Alabama athletic trainers had experienced and that says a lot with ACL tears taking an average of more than 12 months to recover from. Realistically, it is safe to worry that Fowler will not return to 100 percent health by the beginning of the 2013 season.
Unfortunately, H-Back Dee Hart may face the same fate. This opens the door for competition between the incoming freshmen running backs. However, this could be expected regardless of the situation due to the fact that the running back position tends to be one that at a certain level, can’t be coached and relies on raw natural talent. 2013’s batch of recruits includes 4 backs that were among the top 100 players by Rivals.com. With all this being said, this really is a race to see who gets the second spot in the running back rotation.
Alabama may suffer if it is forced to rely heavily on Yeldon if the incoming freshmen don’t quite step up to the plate. With eight running backs on the team this competition for playing time will most likely become a game of numbers in the form of yards, touchdowns and yards per carry. With Yeldon setting the bar so high and the Fowler/Hart combo seemingly out of commission, this will more than likely mean a move to outside linebacker for someone in the running back slot. Evidence of Bama’s running strength can be seen in the fact that combined, all of Bama’s running backs suffered less than 80 yards lost on plays from scrimmage which is an average of 5.5 yards per game. This is a testament to good running backs and great offensive line play. We’ll examine the offensive line in a future edition of the Alabama football preview.
What do you think about Alabama’s running back situation? Will Fowler be ready for the start of the season? Who will share time in the backfield the way Saban likes similar to the Ingram/Richardson and Richardson/Lacy and Lacy/Yeldon dynamic duos? Share your thoughts below.