If you’ve ever heard the phrase “his cup runneth over” then you could probably Google this phrase and see the smiling face of Alabama running backs coach Burton Burns. Since he arrived at Alabama, he’s had the undeniable pleasure of coaching Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson into the pros. Not a bad gig, eh? This year, the cupboard is once again brimming with talent. You want multi talented backs with a lethal combination of size and speed? Allow me to introduce you to Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon. Or, would you prefer a big, beefy tank of a back? Meet Jalston “Nudie” Fowler, whom I affectionately call “The Beast.” If this is just too “boo-coo” for you, or you feel the need to downsize, then we can play Honey I Shrank the Back and show you Dee Hart running around in space. Indeed, there’s something for all shapes, sizes and speeds in the 2012 running back cupboards and Burton Burns couldn’t be happier.
Even with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, this season you can expect Alabama’s bread and butter to be a powerful running game – the hallmark of a Nick Saban offensive production. With Cyrus Kouandjio moving to LT and Barrett Jones sliding to C, the OL will be the biggest it has been since Saban arrived. While AJ is brimming with a live wire arm and the confidence to use it (and his twitter feed), I fully expect to see a heavy rotation of backs as Alabama leans on the running game as usual.
Eddie Lacy – 6’0, 220. Redshirt Junior.
Eddie Lacy arrived as a 2009 signee as the “other” running back in the class that was overshadowed by Trent Richardson. There were quite a few folks who felt Lacy could be and would be every bit as good as Richardson and, while that’s not quite been the case, Lacy has certainly shown that he’s an outstanding back when healthy. Last season, Lacy rushed 95 times for 674 yards for a silly 7.1 yard per carry average. He also scored 7 TDs. In fact, last year the only thing that seemed to slow Lacy down was a painful turf toe that limited his carries in 2011. Unfortunately, even after off season surgery, that toe appears to continue to bother him. Lacy’s recent problems with knee and ankle sprains are certainly not helping him in his quest to be 100% healthy. But, one thing is for sure – when he’s healthy, Lacy can certainly tote the rock with authority. His size, speed and patented spin move, or B button, provides Alabama with a dynamic back with video game like skills. Lacy comprises the first half of what I’m calling the “Xbox Duo”.
TJ Yeldon – 6’2, 205. True Freshman.
That groan you are hearing from across the state is the collective wailing of the Auburn faithful any time TJ Yeldon’s name is brought up. You might remember that Yeldon’s recruitment was highly publicized as early on he was misguided and gave a verbal commitment to AU. Then, with rumors swirling around for weeks that Yeldon would be switching his commitment, he decided on the last day before the dead period (when coaches are not allowed to contact recruits) to switch allegiances to Alabama. Yeldon announced he would be taking his talents to Tuscaloosa and by the time the dead period was over, Yeldon was enrolled and taking classes at UA. There was nothing the AU coaches could do since it all happened during the dead period. Nice!
Yeldon entered the RB competition as an early enrollee of the 2011 class and immediately made his mark by amassing 179 total yards during A-Day. In fact, his efforts made AJ McCarron and the rest of the first team offense enjoy a lovely plate of beans while TJ and the second stringers dined on a succulent steak – compliments of their A-Day victory. First, Yeldon stood out starring in the Alabama/Mississippi All Star game. Then, Yeldon blew up at the Army All American game. Then, he punctuated his efforts with a ridiculous performance at A-Day. All before his senior prom. Yeldon is an elusive runner, blessed with the vision and cutback ability that’s reminiscent to Mark Ingram. He also shows an incredible pair of hands (over 1,500 yards receiving in high school)! Yeldon’s size and speed combined with his hurdling ability (or Y button for you X Box guys), has been captured in You Tube clips everywhere (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1014569-army-all-american-game-2012-video-watch-tj-yeldons-awesome-hurdle). Yeldon’s hurdles paired with Lacy’s spin moves makes Yeldon the other half of the Xbox Duo. Oh, it’s going to be a fun few years watching TJ Yeldon run the football…that is unless you are an Aubie and then it will just be a vapor trail of tears.
Dee Hart – 5’9, 187. Redshirt Freshman.
Hart was an early enrollee in 2010 and, like Yeldon, he impressed as a true freshman during the 2010 A-Day game. Hart was also VERY impressive in the 2010 Army All American game and projected to be a key back in the Bama RB rotation. Sadly, Hart blew out an ACL prior to the 2011 season which forced him to redshirt during his freshman year. However, that bum knee didn’t seem to keep Hart’s name off of the message boards as rumors persisted that he had gotten into an altercation with a fellow Bama teammate. In fact, Hart did leave the team for a while and questions arose as to whether or not we’d ever see Hart carry the football at Alabama. Well, he’s back, healthy and is currently projected to be a third down back as a member of the Bama RB rotation. As Alabama continues to bring in top backs, it’s important to note that Dee Hart is the answer to “which one of these is not like the other ones” so it will be interesting to see how much he’s utilized this season. The other backs are all over 6’0 and over 205 lbs and seem to fit the Saban mold much better as a lead back in his offense. Dee wants to play and a part time or mop up time role may not sit well with him. Keep an eye on this in 2012.
Jalston Fowler – 6’1, 246. Redshirt Junior.
There is a part of me that just wants this big boy to get about 30 carries during a game and let the chips and defenders fall where they may. Dude is a bowling ball of fury who I simply call “The Beast”. In fact, only this chiseled specimen of a man could be nicknamed “Nudie” and not be questioned or ridiculed. Jalston must be Australian for pain because every time he carries the football, he’s inflicting some kind of pain on anyone who is foolish enough to get in his way. The big man has some speed, too, as he’s shown by going 60+ against the first string defense in scrimmages a number of times. I know Ingram, Richardson and Lacy are better all around backs but, my goodness. Fowler is a man among boys and it’s a mighty good time to watch him strut his stuff when he gets the chance. This season, the Beast will be lining up as a RB, FB, HB, TE so I’ll finally get to see my man crush crushing opponents virtually all game long.
Kenyan Drake – 6’1, 195. True Freshman.
Remember the little story that I told you about Eddie Lacy being overshadowed by fellow RB signee Trent Richardson? Well, I’d like you to meet Kenyan Drake. Kenyan Drake was the Gatorade player of the year in Georgia and appears to be every bit as talented as TJ Yeldon. My original projection for Drake was that he’d likely redshirt this season – just as Lacy did when he came in. Well, something funny happened on the way to Drake’s redshirt as now, with Lacy’s toe, ankle and knee issues, Drake is slated to grab himself some carries this season. Drake is a highly accomplished RB from Georgia who sports 4.4 speed to go along with his size and speed. In fact, Mr Gatorade rushed for 1,610 yards on only 173 carries – folks, that’s a ridiculous average of 9.3 yards per carry! Drake would likely start or, at worst, be the #2 back for many teams in the country but, at Alabama, the embarrassment of riches at the RB position probably puts him as the 5th string RB. Crazy.
First, a note about the “Incoming” section. The kids in this section have only given a verbal commitment to Alabama and, as we’ve seen in recruiting, things can change before signing day. But, with that being said, I think it’s important to know what the future holds at the position. Here’s a look at the RBs coming soon (2013 class) to a campus near you.
Tyren Jones – 5’8, 185. 4 Star from Marietta, GA
As an all purpose RB, Jones led the state of Georgia in rushing his junior season with 2,375 yards and 34 touchdowns. He combines blazing speed with surprising power to create a vicious little combo. It’s interesting to me, given the lack of success from guys this size (Terry Grant, Jamal Taylor, Demetrius Goode and, to this point, Dee Hart) that Alabama continues to recruit these smaller or “undersized” backs. Jones must be pretty special and, by all accounts, he is.
Atlee Tenpenny – 5’11, 200. 4 Star from Little Rock, AR.
How much is a Tenpenny worth? Well, we’ve been hearing about this kid since he was but a wee sophomore and his value has only gone up since then – even after breaking his ankle during the season last year. Rivals states that Tenpenny has 4.4 speed and at 5’11, 200 lbs, he’s bringing some size to the table as well. Tenpenny is one of the top backs in the country and garnering his verbal commitment was greeted with quite an uproar. Once again, the future looks bright in the Alabama backfield.
Alabama’s backfield looks like something out of Overstock.com as there is a bevy of beauties in the stable and a line other talented running backs waiting to get in the door. The Alabama team surgeons would have to work for hours just to remove the smile from Burton Burns’ face. Of course nearly every team has some talented running backs, albeit not quite as talented as Alabama’s, so credit Burns for getting the very most out of these kids that he can. Think of the power, speed and relentless running styles that all of Burns’ protégés have exhibited at the RB position. Coffee. Ingram. Richardson. Lacy. Fowler. These kids run downhill with a mean ole nasty streak that would make Bill Romanowski turn tail to find a happy place. Bama’s backs are always assignment sound and can contribute out of the backfield as receivers or stand in the backfield to pick up a hard charging blitz. I don’t think enough can be said about Burns’ ability to get these kids to be relentless and assignment sound…and, of course, it helps the cause that they are so darn physically gifted. What a stable of athletes!