EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth installment in a series looking ahead to the start of Alabama football fall practice. Today, we look at the running backs.
Alabama lost the top two running backs (based on all-purpose yardage) from the 2018 season, first-round NFL Draft choice Josh Jacobs and third-round NFL Draft pick Damien Harris. At many programs, this would be a generational shift. For Nick Saban, the situation is more “next man up.”
The likeliest “next man” is junior Najee Harris, who was Alabama’s No. 2 rusher last season, gaining 783 yards on 117 carries with four touchdowns. Jacobs had 640 rushing yards but had 247 receiving yards compared to just seven yards for Harris. The No. 1 running back recruit in America in 2017, and a standout in the 2017 College Football Playoff Championship Game against Georgia, this is expected to be “the time” for Harris to increase his share of carries. That does not, however, mean he will get a Derrick Henry-type load, as Alabama has three other returning backs and two newcomers who could all work their way into the rotation.
Brian Robinson, the former Hillcrest High star, ran for 262 yards and four touchdowns last season, and was the leading rusher in this year’s A-Day Game. Jerome Ford, who appeared in four games last season, also returns and Chadarius Townsend was moved to running back from wide receiver prior to the spring and gives the Crimson Tide some versatility at the position.
Alabama will have two freshman running backs for fall camp and both could earn playing time this season. Trey Sanders, who played at IMG Academy, was the No. 1 running back recruit in the nation per 247 Sports. Sanders did not enroll for the spring but arrived in Tuscaloosa on May 30 and has gone through summer workouts.
The Crimson Tide’s other signee at the position, four-star recruit Keilan Robinson, also enrolled in May and began workouts soon after undergoing an arthroscopic knee procedure designed to “clean up” a high school injury. Sanders is the larger “power” back at 6-foot, 220 pounds while Robinson is more physically similar to Jacobs at 5-9, 184 pounds.
Jacobs and Damien Harris were both unique talents and there will be no one-to-one match for replacing them. This year’s group will be different but has plenty of talent and depth for new running backs coach Charles Huff to work with. Given the sort of defensive honesty that Alabama’s passing game will enforce, there is a better than average chance that the running game will put up big numbers.