|TideSports College Football Preview|
It’s a fair assessment to label the running back situation at Alabama as talented.
There might be different iterations of “talented.” Some will label it an embarrassment of riches. Opponents might just shake their heads.
However it’s described, it’s true. Alabama is loaded with quality running backs of different shapes, sizes and skill sets — all for a unit that averaged 5.75 yards per carry a season ago.
• Damien Harris, the junior who led the team in rushing in 2016.
• Bo Scarbrough, the jumbo-sized, injury-riddled runner who amazes with his sheer size and speed.
• Josh Jacobs, the elusive and speedy back who gets through a hole quickly.
• Najee Harris, the highly-touted freshman who was coveted by every program in the country.
• Brian Robinson, the local product who runs tough and isn’t intimated by the competition.
Each could have a role in this year’s offense with first-year offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who knows that each is a weapon to be used to exploit defenses.
“Look, running back is a position that you can’t have too many of,” Daboll said. “You can find creative ways to try to use them, and everyone will have a role if they earn that role. So, there’s good players with all five of those guys, really. They’ve done a good job in the spring. But all of the guys are smart, they work really hard, are well-coached, so we’ll find some roles that we can use them as we see fit.”
As absurd as it sounds, Alabama really can’t have too many running backs — even when it looks like they do. Look back to 2015 when the offense was forced to hand it off to Derrick Henry 395 times during the season.
Running back depth can be depleted quickly. Alabama’s 2013 class featured four running backs (Henry, Altee Tenpenny, Tyren Jones and Alvin Kamara). Henry was the only one to stay with the program and was gone after three seasons.
That’s why five running backs isn’t too many this season. They can all have their own roles, including on special teams.
“If somebody goes down, we always have somebody to back them up,” Scarbrough said.
He’s somewhat of an expert on injuries. His season ended on the turf of Raymond James Stadium in the national championship game against Clemson, the victim of a broken leg. He tore his ACL his freshman season.
“You can’t avoid injuries. Whatever happens, happens,” he said. “I worked to get back to where I was, and now I’m better.”
Even in the face of his injury history and stellar competition, Scarbrough isn’t insecure. He doesn’t really view it as competition.
“It’s not all about competing. It’s about creation because we’re on the same team together,” he said. “It’s just like seeing your brother graduate. When you see your brother graduate, you’re happy right? When I see them do anything spectacular or anything good to help the team it makes me happy.”
Scarbrough, who said he keeps his goals to himself, said his favorite running back to watch is Jacobs due to his quickness.
In Najee Harris he sees quick body movements and the ability to get up field fast.
Damien Harris is much the same. In fact, it’s like both backs are reading out of the same play book when it comes to their feelings of how many great backs are on the team.
“We’re willing to do anything we can to help the team,” he said. “It’s fun. Knowing you get to play with the best players in the country, it’s a good feeling. There’s no selfishness. There’s no ego. We try to eliminate all that at the door.”
Harris likes to watch Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and Pittsburgh Steelers back Le’Veon Bell. He studies them closely, just like he studies himself.
“I watch to see how I can make better runs,” he said. “Most importantly you try to see how defenses react to certain things — certain formations, certain runs, how certain techniques play certain gaps. I watch all the running backs.
“Ezekiel Elliott. Him and Leveon Bell, those are my two guys I like to watch in the pro level. They’re both so explosive. Bell is more of a patient runner. He lets the run develop and sets up his blocks. I just love watching the way his patience to the hole and then his speed through the hole. They’re both physical running backs. They’re both great in protection and in blocking.”
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.