With Najee Harris Leading the Running Backs, Alabama's Ground Game in 20/20 Shape
Even though the 2019 Alabama passing game had so many prolific players, from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to the four-headed receiving monster of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, it was another Crimson Tide player who led the Southeastern Conference in scoring.
As a junior, running back Najee Harris found the end zone 13 times on the ground, plus another seven times in the air. The 20 touchdowns gave him an average of 9.2 points per game.
No one will remember, though, if he gets the record every running back in Alabama history has targeted during the Nick Saban era: Career rushing yards.
Over three seasons, Harris has tallied 2,377 including a team-high 1,224 last year (on 209 carries, averaging 5.9 per attempt).
Should he match his 2019 totals, when Alabama played in 13 games, he would have 3,501 career yards. That’s just 90 shy of Alabama’s all-time leader (Derrick Henry).
Factor in Alabama having a new starting quarterback and another monster line, and yes, it seems likely that he's going to get the ball more even though the Crimson Tide is slated to only play a 10-game conference-only regular season in 2020.
“When you look at Najee from a physical stature standpoint, he’s a big physical runner,” offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said. “Very traditional in the types of runners who have been here at Alabama.
“There may be games in which he is that total bell-cow and we have to go the way we need to go to do what we need to do to win the game. There may be other games in which it’s not as many. Maybe we do find ways to get him the ball in the passing game and different things.”
Harris caught 27 passes for 304 yards and was often used as a decoy in the play-action game to help the receivers get an edge on their defenders. One of the reasons why that so effective was his effectiveness in open space.
Granted, the depth chart at running back also includes Brian Robinson Jr. and Trey Sanders (who suffered a torn ACL in fall camp), along with prize additions Jase McClellan, Roydell Williams and Kyle Edwards.
Yet Harris is fresh and ready for more after three years in the college ranks.
“I think all running backs really need to get in a rhythm,” Harris said. “Every running back needs a certain amount. Not even a lot, maybe three carries or so. Just to see how they’re playing it, how the secondary is playing it, how the D-line is slanting. Are they pressing or just holding their blocks, or just moving off. It’s really just learning [that] more into the game you learn how certain plays are being blocked, it’s gathering of information.”
2020 Alabama Running Backs
Returning: Najee Harris, Brian Robinson Jr., 2017, Trey Sanders, Kellen Robinson
New: Jase McClellan, Roydell Williams, Kyle Edwards
Departures: Chadarius Townsend (transfer to Texas Tech); Jerome Ford (transfer to Cincinnati)
This is the first story in a series previewing Alabama's fall camp, set to open Monday.