Jase McClellan may need more than one replacement as Alabama football moves forward | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
Sports Editor

Alabama, like many other football teams, has a philosophy when a player is injured: “Next man up.” 

Replacing sophomore running back Jase McClellan, out with an ACL injury suffered against Ole Miss, may require the next three men up.

McClellan was a part of both phases of Alabama’s offense, the running game and the passing game. In some ways, he may have been scarier as a blocker or receiver than he was just taking straight handoffs from Bryce Young. On top of that, he played a key role on special teams. 

Sep 25, 2021; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA;  Alabama running back Jase McClellan (21) runs in the open field at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama defeated Southern Miss 63-14. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Robinson had a career day against Ole Miss, in part because he had to take a full load in the second half because of McClellan’s injury. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin even noted in his post-game Zoom call that Robinson was on the field at the end, although Kiffin had no way of knowing that McClellan was injured. 

Robinson, who sat out against Southern Miss, is solid as nails but may not have 250 or 300 more carries left in him if Alabama makes it to Indianapolis.

There are replacements available and his running back role may be, in some ways, the easiest to fill. Former Hueytown flash Roydell Williams had more than 100 yards in the first half against Southern Miss and has the speed to score from anywhere on the field. Trey Sanders, coming off a 2020 car accident, was utilized earlier. He has hardly been seen in the last three games, but this brings his opportunities back to a degree.

Alabama's Trey Sanders, after serious car accident, scores touchdown in first game back vs. Miami

Beyond that, two injuries (freshman running back Camar Wheaton is also out with a torn meniscus) leave a thin three-man group. 

“I mean, five is a good number to have and now we have three,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said on Monday. “But I think that would be the case at any position. You lose two or three guys at any position and it challenges your depth. So that's the case. Hopefully, (we) don't get snake-bit and lose a bunch of guys at one position, which really can have an impact on your team."

More Alabama football:Alabama football got physical against Ole Miss, but is joyless murderball back for good? | Hurt

More Alabama football:Lane Kiffin gambled but Alabama football rambled past Ole Miss | Hurt

This issue isn’t recruiting. At Alabama, it rarely is. Jerome Ford is a key part of the offense at national dark horse Cincinnati since transferring there. Keilan Robinson showed real promise in 2019 but sat out 2020 for undisclosed reasons and has joined dormer offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian at Texas. Kyle Davis, a four-star signee from Louisiana, entered the portal last July. Not every player has the patience of a Mac Jones, and that’s understandable.  

On special teams, Alabama does have athletes from whom to choose, and not just running backs, but young tight ends, young linebackers and young safeties. Saban also spoke about adding an “emergency back,” and that’s sparked some speculation about possibilities. Freshman Jalen Milroe has more tools than the Home Depot website, but it’s unlikely that the coaching staff wants to take away from his quarterback reps. Kristian Story and Christian Leary are possibilities and, as everyone knows, Kool Aid McKinstry could burst the wall of the running back room when you least expect it (although, like Milroe, he’s probably glued where he is). 

The main concern is McClellan returning at full speed down the road. On the field, Alabama has weathered such storms before, but needs to hope this one doesn’t intensify.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecilhurt@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt