With Alabama’s spring drills kicking off this past Saturday, the news of potential position changes and other good tidbits began trickling out this weekend. There were three noteworthy position changes that involved Christion Jones, Cyrus Jones and Dee Hart all taking reps at the cornerback position. Personally, I believe Christion Jones’ time there was rather limited and reports seem to confirm that he had the equivalent of a few cups of coffee at the position. However, the move of Cyrus Jones will likely be permanent as he was projected to be a corner coming out of high school. That leaves us with the curious case of Dee Hart. What on earth was he doing lining up with the corners? Today’s spring preview of the running back position may shed a little light on the subject. To think that Alabama added to the stable of Yeldon, Drake, Fowler and Hart by signing four running backs listed in the top 100 players in the country. Holy…
On a team filled with vast quantities of depth and talent, perhaps no other position exemplifies the depth and talent of the Crimson Tide quite as well as the running back position. For the fourth pairing in a row, Bama fans will eagerly await the passing of the mantle from one top NFL caliber running back to an even more talented heir apparent. In 2009, the passing of the torch began with Glen Coffee turning over the reins to Mark Ingram. Then, in 2010, Ingram vaulted to the NFL and left Trent Richardson behind as Saban’s new bell cow. In 2011, Richardson spent one year as the lead back at Alabama and then he followed Coffee & Ingram to the NFL, leaving Eddie Lacy as the lead back. Bama fans were eager to see what Lacy could do as the lead back and he certainly didn’t disappoint them as he led the Tide to victories over Georgia and Notre Dame to win yet another national championship. But, once again instead of mourning the loss of another talented NFL running back, in 2013 Bama fans will celebrate the anointing of another ridiculously talented back – here comes TJ Yeldon and a host of talented feature backs!
TJ Yeldon – 6’2, 216 Sophomore
You know, there are several reasons that it’s got to be awfully tough to be an Auburn fan these days but TJ Yeldon has got to be somewhere near the top of the woe Eagle list. The Rebel Yeldon switched his commitment from Auburn to Alabama in the last moments of the 2011 recruiting cycle and by doing so Yeldon transformed the Tide running attack from good to unstoppable. You may recall that Eddie Lacy was hobbled coming into the season last year so it was of paramount importance that Yeldon was ready to play early. After turning in an A-Day performance of the ages, it was clear that fans would be crying MORE, MORE, MORE for Mr Yeldon throughout the 2012 season as he rushed for 1108 yards in only 175 carries. Well, now that Lacy has departed for the NFL, fans will get their wish because Yeldon should get many, many more totes this season. Yeldon boasts a smooth, fluid running style that is typically unheard of for a back who stands 6’2 and he combines patience and speed to produce a deadly weapon in the running game. Yeldon also has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and who can forget the screen he deftly turned into the winning points on the road against LSU? I can’t wait to get a full dose of the TJ Yeldon experience this season!
Kenyan Drake – 6’1, 204 Sophomore
The staff probably wanted to stagger the eligibility of Yeldon and Drake by redshirting Drake in 2012 but Lacy’s foot & leg injuries and the losses of Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler to ACL injuries forced Drake into a mop up role…and boy did he ever mop up. Drake rushed for 281 yards on 42 carries and his 6.7 yards per carry average was actually higher than that of Lacy (6.5) or Yeldon (6.3). Drake showed an outstanding burst in the zone running game, showing the ability to plant his foot and get north with authority. You may recall that Drake was named as the 2011 Gatorade Player of the Year for the talent laden state of the Georgia so he’s not exactly chopped liver back there. 2013 should give us a much heavier dose of Drake and, as we’ve seen in recent years, you can never have enough depth at the RB position.
Derrick Henry – 6’3, 242 True Freshman
Oh, Henry – you are one big, bad dude. We may begin calling him King Henry just due to his immense size and overwhelming power. While the majority of the recruiting sites across the country worked under the assumption that this big freakish 5-star athlete would be forced to play some other position besides running back, Bama RB coach Burton Burns staked his claim to Henry being RB with authority. You know, I think it would be wise to listen to the man who has coached Coffee, Ingram, Richardson and Lacy into the NFL and by the looks of things Burns is dead on with his assessment of Henry’s abilities as a tailback. After Henry set the NATIONAL high school career rushing record (12,243 yards), we got to see a really nice glimpse of Henry in the Army All American game and the big man certainly did not disappoint the viewers. On one handoff, Henry took a handoff to the right, saw it was hemmed up and then reversed his field, looped well behind the line of scrimmage and finally turned the left hand corner to get a three yard gain. Listen, this was an impressive run if your name was Barry Sanders or had the size and quicks of Dee Hart. But, this was a 242 pound beast of a human being stopping on a dime, cutting back and outracing 4 and 5 star athletes to the corner to pick up yards. Henry’s tape shows a big man who is patient with his cuts but has a strong burst when he decides to go. And, once he goes, that’s 242 pounds of angry coming at you. I’ve heard Herm Edwards talk about the “business decisions” that NFL defensive backs will make when they shy away from taking on punishing backs like Jerome Bettis and I suspect we’ll see a number of SEC defensive backs “take the wrong angle” on their way to this big fella. And, since Henry is an early enrollee, you absolutely need to tune in to A-Day just to see this big man compete!
Tyren Jones – 5’9, 215 True Freshman
Tyren Jones is a dynamic running back but he doesn’t seem to fit the mold of the protypical Saban running back off the hoof. Jones is a 4-star prospect and, as the #6 ranked RB nationally, he does have some considerable skills at the position. Built low to the ground, Jones uses his low center of gravity to shed any would be leg tacklers and he has shown excellent vision and cutting ability to go with his speed. Jones is going to be an interesting one to watch as his size initially would remind most of Dee Hart. However, if he continues to bulk up (Rivals listed his weight at 202 when he signed but now indicates 215) his lower body he could begin to remind some of Mark Ingram. The battle between Jones, Kamara and Tenpenny is going to be legendary as all three have similar skill sets and traits and could emerge as the next big thing in the Bama backfield.
Alvin Kamara – 5’10, 197 True Freshman
Like Jones, Kamara is a 4-star running back from the state of Georgia. While Jones appears to be the better runner of the two, Kamara is thought to be the more elusive all around playmaker. You could conceivably see Kamara out of the backfield on third downs as his speed and hands could be a weapon from the tailback position. I would think Kamara would redshirt this season barring any injuries in front of him but he does appear to be the one freshman back who could offer a change of pace.
Altee Tenpenny – 6’0, 212 True Freshman
Altee Tenpenny is the biggest of the Jones, Kamara and Tenpenny trio and is built much more like what you typically think of when you think of a Saban back. Tenpenny is a north/south runner who has a considerable amount of strength and toughness when he carries the football. In his junior season, a severe ankle injury looked as though it could hamper his career but by all accounts Tenpenny is back and healthy once again. He, too, competed in the Army All American game and ran the football with authority. Of the three, Tenpenny seems to be the most SEC ready back so it’s conceivable you might see him get some mop up snaps this season.
Jalson Fowler – 6’1, 242 Junior
Yes, believe it or not Fowler is the smaller version of Derrick Henry. It’s hard for me to imagine Fowler being smaller than anything listed as a RB but that just goes to show you what a tank Henry will be. The Lighthouse forecasts a lot of moving and shaking for big “Nudie” Fowler as we should see him line up as a FB, H-Back, Tailback and even lined up outside. So immense is the talent of Fowler that he simply has to be on the field in some way, shape or form. At 6’1, 242 you may likely see him line up with Henry to from something akin to a battering ram. Sure, it will be fun to see Yeldon, Drake, Jones and Kamara zipping in and out of tackles and cutting out the heart of a defense with a flurry of precise incisions. But, for my money, I’ll kick back and watch Henry and Fowler pound out the heart of a defense with a large mallet and a smile…
Dee Hart – 5’9, 190 Sophomore
Poor Dee Hart. When we first saw Dee Hart, it was 2011 and he was putting on a ridiculous show at the Army All American game. It seemed that Hart was playing the game in fifth gear while everyone around him was popping their clutch. But, in July of 2011, Hart blew out his ACL while participating in informal 7 on 7s, costing him a tremendous chance of being one of the Tide’s feature backs that season (you’ll remember that Demetrius Goode and Corey Grant left the team, leaving only Richardson and Lacy as proven backs). Then, in 2012, Hart fielded a punt against Ole Miss and crumpled to the ground, tearing the ACL in the very same knee. An emotional Hart left the sidelines that day knowing exactly what was ahead of him with yet another surgery and more rehab. Well, here we are in 2013 and the word is that Hart has moved over with the defensive backs in an effort to get more playing time. One injury to the knee is hard enough for a running back to overcome but two? Well, it appears Hart’s knee has apparently removed him from the RB discussion at this time. We loved seeing him get pumped up on special teams last season as he delivered hits and big plays any time he could. His attitude was infectious so we hope that he has a bright future at DB.
In our earlier previews we mentioned that 2013 should be the year of the passing game for the Alabama offense. However, when you look at the list of immensely talented running backs above you have to wonder if Saban and Nussmeier really will give AJ the keys to the Ferrari. I mean, when you have a couple of tanks at your disposal, why not dispense with subtlety? Yeldon and Drake will likely form the backbone of the running game but we suspect that Henry will contribute quite a bit, as well. Many feel you’ll see one of Jones, Kamara or Tenpenny emerge as a change of pace back with Kamara being the one back that appears to be different than the others. However, the Lighthouse’s money is on Tenpenny to emerge as the mop up guy and we think he’ll be the freshman other than Henry who will see the field on Saturdays. When you are up by 30 at halftime, we don’t think there’s much of a need for a change of pace back so we’ll go with the strongest most mature looking RB for mop up duty. One thing is for sure, it’s going to be a good time watching this stable of horses get out and run and you know on Saturday nights in the midnight hour, we’ll cry MORE, MORE MORE!