TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Although former Alabama running back Najee Harris left quite a hole to be filled in the Crimson Tide backfield this past offseason after departing for a career in the NFL, the ground game for the program this season has been more than capable of picking up where Harris left off.
This season sees redshirt-senior running back Brian Robinson Jr. take the reins after spending each of his previous four seasons serving the team in a backup capacity. While speaking with the media on Tuesday afternoon, Robinson gave his assessment of the Crimson Tide backfield so far this season.
"The running game's been good," Robinson said. "It can always be better just with small details that we need to focus on and practice. Also from watching film, just yards we're leaving out there, just some details we need to clean up. So like I said, the running game has been good for us, but it can be a whole lot better."
While Alabama's running game hasn't been disappointing, it hasn't quite shown the spark that was on display last season. Through the team's first two games this season, the Crimson Tide stable has combined for 279 rushing yards, with almost half of those yards coming from Robinson alone (130).
When approaching his first season as a starter, Robinson began to train harder than he ever had before in order to prepare him for his new role on offense. Now in his fifth season — a COVID year granted by the NCAA — Robinson provides something to the offense not often seen in college football: four full years of experience behind him without a redshirt season.
Robinson said that in his preparations for the 2021 season, he took a more physical approach. Combining that with the depth that Alabama has at the position, and he believes it's a solid combination.
"It's been just a little bit more physical for me," Robinson said. "I'm getting a little bit more carries now than I usually do. So, I just have to make sure I'm taking care of my body and taking as few hits as I can, even though that's impossible.
"But also with the depth we bring in the running back room is good, so I don't have to get all of the carries or all the reps. I have experienced guys that can come in and there's no drop off. They can play just as efficient, so that's been good for me and it'll be good for our whole room."
One of the main traits of Robinson's game is his physicality, which has improved to an even higher level this season thanks to his preparations over the offseason. While being a physical running back has its advantages, it certainly makes him more prone to injury along with the opportunity to stop him earlier than if he dodged defenders entirely.
Robinson noted that Alabama coach Nick Saban has discussed improving his ability to dodge would-be tacklers rather than trying to run them over.
“[Saban] wants me to work on avoiding tackles," Robinson said. "Not being as physical all the time, but sometimes if I can avoid tackles or make people miss — I should work on trying to make people miss instead of always being so physical and taking so many hits all the time. That’s something I can work on to be more effective in the open field, making people miss.”
That news is good for the Crimson Tide defenders who have to face Robinson every day in practice. Defensive back Jordan Battle noted Robinson's hard-hitting mentality, even when it comes to facing his own teammates in practice.
"Yeah I would say he’s a punisher, which makes us a tough defense because Alabama always gets guys like that at running back who likes to be the punisher instead of being punished," Battle said. "It kind of gets the defense tough, so I like it."
This coming Saturday, Alabama faces a tough defense as it plays its first true road game of the season at Florida. The Gators have a solid defensive line combined with experienced linebackers that will try their hardest to stop Robinson and the rest of the Crimson Tide running backs in their tracks.
For a physical player like Robinson, the challenge is one he welcomes. However, Robinson said he doesn't like to be hit, so he'd rather be the one to deal the punishment rather than take it.
“I can’t say that I enjoy contact, but if I have to make contact I want to initiate it before someone hits me," Robinson said. "That’s the kind of where I am with that. I’m okay with contact, but I don’t want to have to be physical all the time. I want to give my body a rest sometime.”