Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Next man up? Alabama has to replace top two running backs this spring


It has been a long time since The University of Alabama football team has had to replace two key running backs. After winning the 2015 National Championship – the Crimson Tide lost Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry – two impact players. Drake graduated, and Henry, who was a junior, decided to leave Alabama for the NFL Draft.

Now, with 11 spring practices and two scrimmages stamped in the book, Alabama looks at contenders to fill that void.

“I think this is definitely an area where we’ve never ever lost our two bell cow guys in the same year,” coach Nick Saban said. “You can go all the way back to the beginning.”

The past

The notable trend started in 2008 with Mark Ingram. The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner helped lead Alabama to its 13th National Championship title that same year. He left after the 2010 season and went to play for the New Orleans Saints, where he’s been since.

The loss didn’t hit the Crimson Tide too hard because it had Trent Richardson there and ready to go. Richardson played from 2009-11, so he overlapped with Ingram for two seasons. Richardson was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011, finishing third, and was a part of two winning National Championship teams, 2009 and 2011. Like Ingram, Richardson left for the NFL draft after three seasons with the Crimson Tide. He played two seasons for the Indianapolis Colts before switching to the Cleveland Browns, with whom he has been with the past two years.

Then came Eddie Lacy. He joined the Crimson Tide in 2010 and left in 2012 as he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers. With Richardson, Lacy was there for the 2011 National Championship. He also was there the following year, which marked Alabama’s 15th National Championship title.

Also a member of the 2012 National Championship team was then-freshman running back T.J. Yeldon. He came in with Drake that year, but Yeldon left in 2014 to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars as Drake stayed for his senior season. Henry joined the team in 2013, allowing him, Drake and Yeldon to have two seasons together. When Yeldon left, there was no reason to worry.

Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner, and Drake led Alabama to its 16th National Championship this past season as their final game in crimson and white.

So as seasons passed and running backs moved onto their next chapter in life, Alabama has had someone with experience there to fill in right away. Not this season. The overlap wasn’t there.

“Derrick and Kenyan just happened to be a little closer together,” Saban said.

The present

Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris aren’t new faces among the Crimson Tide.

Alabama played 15 games last season. Scarbrough sat out the first four games while rehabbing from a knee injury, but afterwards, he saw playing time in seven games, rushing 13 times for 86 yards and a touchdown. Harris finished having played in 12 games and totaling 46 carries for 157 yards and a touchdown.

After Drake broke his arm during the Mississippi State game on Nov. 14, and although he returned rather quickly, in the time he sat out, Scarbrough and Harris stepped up. Before hosting Charleston Southern the following weekend, offensive lineman Cam Robinson said the team had all the confidence in the world in Scarbrough and Harris stepping up when Drake was injured.

“We know they’re both playmakers and are explosive when they get the ball in their hands,” Robinson said leading up to the game. “I’m confident they can step in and pick up Drake’s slack.”

And they did. Scarbrough, ahead of Henry, led Alabama with 10 carries for 69 yards and a touchdown. Harris also finished with 10 carries but for 48 yards and a touchdown.

Now, Drake and Henry are gone, and the two have no choice but to step up, again, for a much longer time span – the 2016 season.

With its spring play coming to an end with A-Day on April 16, the Crimson Tide has gotten glimpses of the potential both Scarbrough and Harris have. During Saturday’s scrimmage, Scarbrough led the offense on the ground, totaling 12 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown. Harris was right behind him with eight carries for 56 yards, which Saban said was really, really good.

“[Harris has] done a nice job, showing some maturity,” Saban said. “He’s able to compete in practices better. He’s got a better understanding and more confident in what’s expected of him. I’ve been really encouraged by him and the springs he’s had, including [Saturday].”

Going into Alabama’s second scrimmage, Saban wanted Scarbrough and Harris to each notch eight to ten carries, and both players were successful in doing so.

Ronnie Clark also saw some action, carrying the ball seven times for 31 yards.

“All the [running] backs are great,” defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand said before Alabama’s first scrimmage. “They hit the hole. They’re fast. They’re strong. So you can’t complain.”

The future

Both Scarbrough and Harris have only one season under their belts. This means if they stay through their senior year, they’d graduate at the same time, which would result in Alabama losing two running backs in the same year again.

However, the Crimson Tide already has a new face if such a situations arises.

B.J. Emmons, a four-star recruit according to 247Sports, is signed to play for Alabama and will join the team in the fall. Weighing in at 232 pounds, he’s a 5-foot-10 running back from Morgantown, North Carolina.

Ranked 35th nationally, but No. 2 for his position, Emmons has potential and will compete against Scarbrough and Harris once on campus. Due to the fact that Emmons was not one of Alabama’s eight early enrollees, Emmons has not participated in any spring play.

“I think there’s going to be an opportunity for some young players there [at the running back position],” Saban said. “Certainly, the guys we have here got lots of opportunity here [at Saturday’s scrimmage] and they definitely need to get better. But we’ve had freshmen running backs do well for us in the past, so it’s not a position they can’t play and contribute.”

Regardless of who takes over as Alabama’s go-to running back, the team will have depth on its roster but it’ll come from the youth on the team this time rather than more experienced returners as it has in the past.

But Saban isn’t looking for someone to instantly replace Henry or Drake. That would be a high expectation, considering neither Scarbrough nor Harris saw enough playing time last season for that to happen.

As Alabama hosted the 2016 Clinic of Champions, which featured over 1,200 high school coaches, Saban said it took him back to his roots, reminding him what the most important things are.

“One of the things I wanted to share with the players [Saturday] after practice was Tony Dungy said that he learned from Chuck Noll,” Saban said. “Champions don’t have to do extraordinary things. They just have to do ordinary things extraordinarily.”             

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