Wisconsin's Clement, Alabama's Henry carry on in backfields
After biding their time behind big-name stars, Clement and Henry are poised to take over in their respective backfields when their teams meet in a marquee season opener in Arlington, Texas.
''This is something that I've prepared for, especially taking two years just to get this primary role,'' Clement said. ''I feel as if I'm ready.''
He better be with the Tide's formidable front seven standing in the way.
Then again, perhaps no tailback had a better view last year of the lengths that defenses will go to stop a strong runner than Clement. He was the backup to Heisman Trophy runner-up Melvin Gordon, a first-round draft pick for the San Diego Chargers.
Gordon seemingly got stronger as the season wore on, even with all the extra attention. This offseason, Clement prepared mentally and physically for more carries, including the arduous task of climbing up and down the Camp Randall stairs while holding on to a 50-pound weight.
The affable Clement has bulked up his 5-foot-11 frame. He was used to getting 15 to 17 carries a game last year, but that was typically toward the end of games.
Clement said he ''kind of got tired toward the end because (Wisconsin) would just run, run, run to drain the clock out.''
Now, Clement will be counted on to set the tone. Ideally, he's hoping to get 20 to 25 carries.
This should not be a problem for new coach Paul Chryst, who was the Badgers' offensive coordinator before a three-year stint as the head coach at Pittsburgh.
''This team has obviously been a very, very strong running team but I think Paul has always been a guy that has been able to create balance with what he does,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
As it is, Clement has already had the kind of start to his college career that backs at many other schools would savor, running for nearly 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns in his two years in Madison. He had 949 yards rushing and nine scores on 147 carries last season.
Henry was even better in 2014, running for 1,025 yards and 11 touchdowns on 172 carries. He served as the backup to T.J. Yeldon, a second-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Henry outrushed Yeldon by just 13 yards, but Yeldon turned into one of the program's top five rushers in just three years. Yeldon succeeded Eddie Lacy, who succeeded Trent Richardson, who succeeded Mark Ingram.
Then again, the 6-foot-3 Henry is used to the spotlight himself. He set the national high school record for career rushing yards.
''Oh yeah, he has the respect. Derrick is a great running back, man. He has great size but most importantly, he has speed,'' tight end O.J. Howard said.
Much of the attention this preseason in Tuscaloosa has been focused on the quarterback competition. No matter to Henry.
''A lot of people don't notice that about him until you play him on the field. Derrick has that respect and he's earned it,'' Howard said. ''I'm looking forward to a big year out of Derrick.''
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, contributed to this report.
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