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Nick Saban Says RB Justice Haynes Could Play Bigger Role Moving Forward

In the win over Arkansas, the true freshman running back saw carries in the first half of a game for the first time this season.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For the first time this season in Saturday's win over Arkansas, four different Alabama running backs got carries in the first half of a game.

Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has spoken highly of the running back group since the spring, but through the first half of the season, Alabama was primarily utilizing only seniors Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams at the position.

Before Saturday, Jam Miller had one carry in the first half all season, and Justice Haynes had none. The two had been limited to reps in mostly mop-up duty when Alabama had already put games away against opponents like Middle Tennessee and Mississippi State. 

Haynes finished with just two carries for 11 yards, but Alabama seemed to have a more concerted effort to get its top four running backs playing time against the Razorbacks. In his limited playing time, Haynes has shown why he received so much hype in the offseason, and Saban was pleased with his performance Saturday. 

"He played great," Saban said Monday. "He's been playing really well all year... Justice played really good when he was in there. We're pleased with all those guys, and maybe there will be some opportunity for him to make a bigger contribution in the future."

Miller had four rushes for 40 yards, including a 19-yard run in the third quarter that helped set up the Alabama field goal that put the Crimson Tide ahead 24-6 at the time. 

"It felt good seeing those guys," Williams said after the game. "As they grow, they’re maturing in the running game, the passing game in pass protection. Justice does a great job. Jam does a great job as well. When they get in, it’s their time, and they can do it.”

On the season, Haynes now has 10 carries for 62 yards. He has yet to score his first touchdown with the Crimson Tide. The true freshman now has carries in three different games, but has played in almost every game on special teams, which means he would not be eligible for a red shirt. 

McClellan leads all running backs with 95 attempts for 454 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. Williams is behind him with 61 carries for 319 yards and 1 touchdown. Miller has at least one carry in every game except the Texas A&M game, but there's a huge drop-off in attempts from Williams to Miller with 13. 

Alabama has one other scholarship running back on the roster in true freshman Richard Young, but Young did not join the team till the summer, so he's a little behind Haynes, who came in the spring. Young has only appeared in the Middle Tennessee game, so he would still be eligible for a red shirt at this point. 

Alabama has confidence in the top four guys at the position. After the Arkansas game, Saban said it's always been the plan to use all four players, but sometimes the games haven't allowed it. He further explained on Monday why the reps have been hard to come by. 

"So we got four guys at the position, and all those guys deserve reps and playing time," Saban said "It's really, really hard to get four guys at the running back position to be in rhythm and to play a significant number of snaps. Jam played well when he was in there. Roydell, Jase both played really well when they were in there."

As the grind of the SEC season continues to wear on the players, the depth developed at running back will be important. This Saturday, as No. 11 Alabama (6-1, 4-0 SEC) prepares to face No. 17 Tennessee (5-1, 4-1 SEC), it will be up against a talented rushing defense. 

The Volunteers have a top-20 rushing defense in the country, allowing just over 100 yards per game on the ground. Last week in their win against Texas A&M, they only gave up 54 rushing yards to the Aggies. 

At times this season, like against Mississippi State, Alabama has shown great ability to run the ball. But Saban still wants to see a balanced attack that opens up the offense for both the passing and running game. The second half against Arkansas was better, and it's something he wants to build on this week against Tennessee. 

"It was a lot better in the second half," Saban said. "I think we got a hat on a hat, kind of knew exactly what they were doing formationally. I think the offensive line did a really good job. They were creating some holes and the backs did a good job of running downhill. That's the way we want it to be all the time. We just got to keep working at it so we continue to develop consistency in that part of our team."