Scrimmage reports from the University of Alabama have long since moved out of Classical Realism style and become abstract work of arts, where the picture is painted in shades and lines that are open to any number of interpretations.
The lack of statistics isn’t really a big issue. Even in the days when every scrimmage was open to all, the statistics, unless they were glaring, were hard to interpret. You often don’t know if touchdowns came in short-yardage drills where the offense started with a first down inside the 2-yard line. There was no way to tell, from raw numbers, whether the first-team offense was feasting on the third-team defense or slicing its way through the starters.
Sometimes, Nick Saban paints the scrimmage picture like a Jackson Pollack — a drip here, a splash there, but not much else. Those usually aren’t good days as scrimmages go. On Saturday, after the 2017 Crimson Tide had its first scrimmage, Saban was more like Jasper Johns, even throwing an occasional honest-to-goodness number in there. So, if you tilted your head at just the right angle, you could tell that there was a pretty good scrimmage in the frame.
Both of the prominently-mentioned quarterbacks, returning starter Jalen Hurts and incoming freshman Tua Tagovailoa — played well, it seemed. (At least Saban mentioned passing touchdowns and was explicit in stating that there were no interceptions.) There was some good words for the defense and at least a passing reference to the “offensive transition” being made to new coordinator Brian Daboll. Some people took that as “shade” towards Lane Kiffin. It probably wasn’t, but it’s more fun to pretend that it was.
Through all the interpretations, though, one thing was clear. Alabama has running backs. Lots of them. Good ones.
In Saturday’s scrimmage, Bo Scarbrough and B.J. Emmons sat out, as they have for all of the early spring work. Damien Harris participated until he sprained his foot. Josh Jacobs “could have played” with a thigh bruise he suffered at practice, but didn’t. So that’s every running back with any experience out for part or all of the scrimmage. And that didn’t seem to bother Nick Saban a bit.
“Najee played a lot,” Saban said. “Brian Robinson played a lot — which is good for them.”
“Najee,” of course, is Najee Harris, the California star who was rated as the No. 1 prep tailback in America by most recruiting services. He’s already getting the word-of-mouth hype that talented “skill position” five-star recruits attract, and then some. Brian Robinson is the hometown star from Hillcrest. You can chalk this up to local knowledge, but it will hold true — if Brian Robinson is the No. 6 back on your “rep chart,” then you are loaded at running back.
That’s pretty much a necessity these days, especially for teams that might play 13, 14 or 15 games in a season. That’s a lot of wear and tear on a running back. Backs with Derrick Henry’s strength and durability are once-per-generation genetic marvels. Saban’s teams have been strong in the past with two or three backs sharing the load. This group seems capable. We also got an almost-stat out of Saban, who noted that “the backs caught quite a few passes,” which seemed to mean actual pass routes and not just forward flips near the line of scrimmage.
Two more weeks of spring should fill in a few more details, especially at some positions where a rotation still seems vague. At running back, though, the picture is definitely clear.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.