Backfield Versatility Could Be Crucial, Advantage for Alabama During Chaotic Season

Christopher Walsh

Versatility in the backfield can mean various things, including a quarterback who is able take off and effectively run and pass-catching running backs.

For Alabama it also means depth, especially for this season, which figures to be extremely chaotic if played this fall. 

Najee Harris returned for his senior year, and even if he hadn’t the Crimson Tide still would have been pretty stacked at running back. 

Nick Saban also has power back Brian Robinson Jr., star prospect Trey Sanders, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, and change-of-pace back Keilan Robinson. 

On top of that the Crimson Tide added in recruiting Jase McClellan, Roydell Williams and Kyle Edwards. 

Part of college football's tracing protocol is that a player who has had "high-risk” contact with a person who tested positive for the virus is required to go through a 14-day quarantine. 

Yes, “high-risk” includes collisions.

How many opposing players do running backs come in contract with when carrying the ball? Sometimes, if they're difficult to bring down (and Alabama running backs are known for that), it can be pretty much all of them. They may be the most prone, or at-risk players on the field.

Seven running backs may not be enough.

As for the pass-catching part of it, Harris is extremely dangerous in open field, and has 37 career receptions for 356 yards and seven receiving touchdowns. It gives him a total of 2,733 yards from scrimmage and 27 overall touchdowns.

It'll be interesting to see if anyone can sort of win a third-down role out of the other running backs, if for no other reason than to lesson the wear and tear on Harris during a physically-challenging 10-game SEC schedule.

Here's a quick look at how some other SEC teams are looking in the backfield. 

LSU: The Tigers are planning to go with a three headed monster in the backfield, all of whom do certain things well. Between John Emery, Chris Curry and Tyrion Davis-Price, Emery is probably the most versatile of the three. While Curry and Davis-Price are more of your typical downhill runners, Emery has a little more finesse in his game and will likely be used in passing situations as a capable catcher out of the backfield. It’ll be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger and running backs coach Kevin Faulk divvy up the touches but keep an eye on freshman Kevontre Bradford. Bradford is a speedy back that has impressed the coaching staff thus far.

Also of note: How many fans is LSU striving to put in Tiger Stadium? https://www.si.com/college/lsu/football/lsu-fans-tiger-stadium

— Glen West, LSU Country

Ole Miss: For an offense with a lot of questions marks, there's certainly not a lack of versatility in the backfield. In these SEC roundtables, we've talked a lot about Jerrion Ealy's rise as a freshman and a potential second leap that could be coming this season as a sophomore. He's certainly one of the most versatile players in the SEC, but he's not even the most versatile player in the Ole Miss backfield – that distinction goes to quarterback and potential do-it-all wild card John Rhys Plumlee. As the season came to a close in 2019, Plumlee had won the starting quarterback job and (with a few exceptions) was out there on every drive. He finished the year being named to Freshman All-American teams by both 247Sports and The Athletic. As a quarterback, Plumlee set the Ole Miss freshman running record (1,023 yards) and totaled 16 touchdowns. However, this season Plumlee might not even play quarterback. Yes, he has as good a shot to win the job as Matt Corral, but Lane Kiffin might prefer the more polished passer. Remember, despite his freshman success, Plumlee only completed 52.7 percent of his passes. But he's still so dynamic and so versatile that John Rhys Plumlee will see the field in some way this year. He's the true Rebel wild card.

Also of note: Ole Miss linebacker MoMoSanogo Pushing Back Against SEC Return to Play Protocols

– Nate Gabler, The Grove Report

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are banking on running back Kylin Hill to not only be one of the most versatile players on the team, but one of the most well-rounded players in the entire league. Hill led the SEC in rushing yardage during the regular season a year ago, but he caught only 18 passes. This season, in new head coach Mike Leach's Air-Raid offense, Hill is going to be expected to do so much more than just tote the rock. "I told (Hill) when we first got the job, I said, ‘Hey listen, you’re not going to lead the SEC in rushing this year. Let’s just get that out of the way. But you’ll probably lead the SEC in all-purpose yards though,'" new MSU running backs coach Eric Mele told Cowbell Corner earlier this summer. "That’s what we’re all about. We want yards on the ground and in the air.” While Hill hasn't necessarily proven he can be a top receiving target in college, he has shown flashes he's ready to be productive in that way. He has looked comfortable catching passes throughout his Bulldog career and back in high school, he used to line up in the slot some. The bottom line is this: Hill is about to get as good of an opportunity as anyone in the SEC to prove he can be an offensive threat that can hurt opponents in multiple ways. 

– Joel Coleman, Cowbell Corner

South Carolina: While the running back room is somewhat sparse, the Gamecocks do have two intriguing prospects to plug into new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's offense. DeShaun Fenwick is a redshirt sophomore and showed some flashes last season in limited action. He appeared in five games and amassed 111 yards and Bobo said during spring practice, he's a fan of how he looks so far. "He's a guy that's embraced with open arms a clean slate, a new mindset," Bobo said. "He's big, good looking guy, he's running physical and showing some toughness in the competition and blocking drills coach [Will] Muschamp puts him through. He's got good hands and he's a smart kid." Freshman MarShawn Lloyd is the second prospect in the backfield Gamecocks are eager to see in action. In just a few practices during this past spring, he was already drawing comparisons to former Georgia running back D'Andre Swift.

Bobo is no stranger to developing pro-level running backs having seen a few of his own during his time at Georgia so he should be able to get the most out of the small group he has at South Carolina.

Also of note: https://www.si.com/college/southcarolina/football/usc-possible-schedule

https://www.si.com/college/southcarolina/football/can-usc-bounce-back

— Chaunte'l Powell, Gamecock Digest. @chauntelpowell

Vanderbilt: The backfield will likely be by committee, at least early on as there are no less than six back who all have a chance to earn carries. However, of all candidates with the most versatility is true freshman Rocko Griffin. The Savannah, Ga. native brings a level of speed that few have, and something the majority of Commodore backs don’t possess. His ability to take it the distance and as a receiver with home run ability make him the most versatile prospect. No, he’s not the biggest back, in-factor he is undersized, but there are some many potential ways new offensive coordinator Todd Fitch can deploy him to have that element of speed on the field as much as possible.

— Greg Arias/Commodore Country, @gregAriasSports 

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Comments (2)
No. 1-2
Joey Blackwell
Joey Blackwell

Editor

Alabama is definitely deep at the position this year, that's for sure.

Tyler  Martin
Tyler Martin

Editor

We know what Najee and Brian can do, looking forward to seeing what Trey Sanders brings to the table


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