Tide running backs — including Henry now — producing big-time
Remember when everyone was worried about the Alabama ground attack? After the season-opening Virginia Tech game? When the Crimson Tide, which has built a reputation in recent years as a power running team, mustered just 96 rushing yards against the Hokies?
Seems a little silly now, huh?
Alabama’s primary ball carriers — T.J. Yeldon, a 6-foot-2, 218-pound sophomore, and Kenyan Drake, a 6-foot-1, 201-pound sophomore — have both looked good in recent weeks.
Very good, in fact.
Against Arkansas last Saturday, Yeldon ran for 88 yards and a touchdown, while Drake ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Against Kentucky the week before, Yeldon totaled 124 yards and two touchdowns, while Drake had 106 yards and two touchdowns.
Skipping over the Georgia State ‘scrimmage’ where Alabama’s starters saw limited action and going back to the Ole Miss game, Yeldon and Drake again both produced. Yeldon ran for 121 yards and a touchdown against the Rebels, while Drake added 99 yards and a touchdown.
“I think those two guys have played well, and both running backs compliment each other in terms of their style,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said this week. “One guy’s a little faster and the other guy is more of a inside, make-you-miss, hard-to-tackle runner. So I think the change of pace the two guys compliment each other with is something that’s good for the team, and I think it’s good for both of them as well. Hopefully, they’ll both continue to improve and play well for us.”
The fact that both guys are doing so well says a lot too about Alabama’s offensive line, which shouldered much of the blame for Bama’s running game woes in the season-opener.
“(The running backs’ success) probably speaks to something that’s happening up front with the offensive line and also the receivers in terms of how everybody’s doing their job on those particular plays,” Saban said.
Everybody knew heading into the season that Alabama was breaking in three new starters on the offensive line. Few people, however, were willing to give the line a first-game mulligan, choosing instead to start doubting whether or not this year’s O-line was quality material.
As it turned out, a little time to gel was all it needed.
“I think the offense has improved, and I think it starts up front with the offensive line,” Saban said. “That’s where we had three new starters and not a lot of experience with those guys, and I think as they’ve played together and communicated together and got more confidence and trust in each other, I think that’s helped us offensively as much as anything.
“The offensive line coming along has really allowed the other players on offense to have a better opportunity to show what they can do well.”
As far as the running backs, Saban said they have ‘always been good players.’
And after what true freshman Derrick Henry — a bigger back at 6-foot-3, 238 pounds — showed last Saturday in his 80-yard touchdown run, it looks like Alabama may have three, not two, all-star caliber running backs to throw at defenses over the remainder of the season.
“Derrick Henry is certainly getting more and more confident as a young player who has gotten the opportunity to play and done some really good things,” Saban said.
The biggest challenge for Henry right now is learning the nuances of pass protection and running routes out of the backfield. It’s extra responsibilities he’s not used to.
“He told me, ‘Coach, in high school I never did any of this,’” Saban said. “‘They just handed me the ball or tossed me the ball’ … He certainly has a lot of talent and ability to be a very good player in the future.”
Yeldon, Drake, Henry and the rest of the Crimson Tide (7-0 overall, 4-0 in SEC) will host Tennessee (4-3, 1-2) Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. CDT. CBS will televise the game.
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