Hits keep coming for Alabama's still-talented backfield
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) The biggest concern for Alabama's backfield figured to be finding enough carries to go around after four top running back prospects signed with the Crimson Tide two years ago.
Dismissals, injuries and transfers have taken a toll since then, and only Derrick Henry remains from that 2013 group. The latest blow came when highly rated signee Bo Scarbrough went down with a knee injury during last weekend's scrimmage that leaves his status for next season in question.
Tyren Jones had been dismissed and Altee Tenpenny also left in the offseason They joined fellow 2013 signee Alvin Kamara, along with Dee Hart, in departing the program for one reason or another the past couple of years. T.J. Yeldon also kept up the trend of `Bama backs skipping a senior season to enter the NFL draft.
''We've had really injuries, suspensions, and lost some people at that position so what seemed like a pretty strong position for us, depth-wise, has gotten a little thin,'' Tide coach Nick Saban said.
If Henry and Kenyan Drake can stay healthy and five-star signee Damien Harris lives up to his billing when he arrives on campus, it shouldn't be a problem. Alabama has had to replace a tailback who left early for the NFL three of the past four seasons, after all.
But Drake is returning from a broken leg sustained last season and seeing some practice time at wide receiver to take advantage of his versatility.
Converted safety Ronnie Clark and freshman DeSherrius Flowers, a January enrollee, have a chance to carve out roles this spring, especially with Drake limited.
Having two proven commodities at tailback still leaves Alabama ahead of some programs, and Saban said both Henry and Drake have ''been fantastic'' this spring.
''We needed to establish some depth,'' he said. ''Bo was the guy who was giving us that. There's going to be some opportunity for young guys that come in here to be able to play early on. That's happened in the past with Mark (Ingram) and Trent (Richardson) and a lot of guys. Maybe some of the guys that we recruited this year will get some opportunity early on as well.''
Alabama's success in landing so many highly rated tailbacks has also come with a downside: Players leaving for more playing time. Hart ran for 1,275 yards and 16 touchdowns last season at Colorado State. Kamara left for junior college after redshirting in his first season - when he was twice suspended - and is now at Tennessee.
Henry and Drake have each run for 1,000-plus yards during their Tide careers and combined for 37 total touchdowns.
Identifying another Southeastern Conference-caliber runner would free offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to move Drake around like he did last season. Drake had an 87-yard touchdown catch last season and had more yards receiving (159) than rushing (112) before getting injured in the fifth game.
''Coach Kiffin, I can tell you, loves him,'' Alabama receiver Chris Black said. ''He kind of reminds me of Reggie Bush a little bit.
''Just the fact that you can line him up out wide. You can put him in the backfield. You can do a lot of different things. Fast guy, explosive.''
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