Alabama had freshmen running backs as its Nos. 3 and 4 ball carriers in 2019, Keilan Robinson and Jerome Ford. But with the exception of the Duke game, when Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. were serving suspensions, their carries came in largely inconsequential situations: 36 of their 63 carries came in games that were decided by 40 points or more.
That small workload from freshman running backs was a rarity for UA, the second-lowest carries total for UA freshman running backs in the last five seasons. There is reason to believe that won’t be the case in 2020.
Saturday brings UA 63 days away from its season opener against USC, albeit in the midst of discouraging reports out of USC (classes going mostly online in the fall) and Texas (Gov. Greg Abbott issuing a statewide masks order amid another spike in COVID-19 cases), with the game scheduled to be played in Arlington. If UA does start its season 63 days from now, it will likely begin a season that sees more than 63 carries for freshmen running backs.
The return of Trey Sanders is the biggest reason to project an increased workload for freshmen. Last year’s No. 2 back, Brian Robinson Jr., ended the season with 96 carries, and Sanders was challenging him for that No. 2 role before the foot injury that took him out for the entire 2019 season.
Sanders will be a redshirt freshman in 2020 and if he is able to challenge, or outright beat, Robinson for the No. 2 role, that is more than enough to eclipse 63 carries. Even in the rare seasons when UA has had a dominant No. 1 rusher (T.J. Yeldon’s 207-carry 2013, Derrick Henry’s 395-carry), the Crimson Tide’s No. 2 back has still taken at least 75 carries.
But Sanders will not be the lone freshmen vying for carries behind Harris. He’s joined by a trio of signees that will compete Robinson but don’t have to surpass Ford, who transferred to Cincinnati.
Jase McClellan comes with the most acclaim, the top 50 prospect from Aledo, Texas, who flipped from Oklahoma on signing day. McClellan is one of two top 10 running backs UA signed in 2020, also securing Roydell Williams from Hueytown. Kyle Edwards is the other running back signee, a three-star out of Louisiana.
With a freshman threat returning for another chance at the No. 2 role and a trio of freshmen presenting real challenges to the Nos. 3 and 4 role, it seems likely that UA’s freshmen running backs will end the 2020 season with more than 63 carries.