TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- University of Alabama starting nickel back Geno Smith and backup running back Kenyan Drake are back in good standing and ready to go against No. 7 Texas A&M, according to coach Nick Saban. The No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide is currently on a bye week before the highly anticipated Sept. 14 trip to College Station, Texas, to face the Aggies.
But whether the pair of sophomores will play is anyone's guess. Smith was reinstated this week after being suspended for Week 1 after his arrest for a DUI, had Jarrick Williams play well in his absence against Virginia Tech this past weekend, helping limit Logan Thomas to 59 yards passing in the season opener. And though Alabama struggled to move the ball on the ground against Bud Foster's defense, the rotation of tailbacks didn't appear to be left wanting with T.J. Yeldon leading the way, followed by Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and Altee Tenpenny.
"We have other players that played in the game in their place," Saban said, "So it's up to them to sort of prove that they're better than those players and can do a better job."
For Smith, his seeing the field next Saturday could end up being a result of the numbers game going in his favor. The former four-star prospect is one of only a few experienced cornerbacks on the roster, and against Texas A&M, the Tide will need all the help it can get as Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin likes to spread out on offense with multiple receivers. Johnny Manziel picked apart the Alabama secondary early in last year's game, scoring two touchdowns through the air in the Tide's lone loss of the season.
Drake's status, though, is still uncertain. Many have wondered how someone who was expected to be the No. 2 tailback entering fall camp would suddenly drop to scout team and not travel for the season opener, but sources inside the program indicate the move was the result of a deeper pool of running backs with the addition of four talented backs in the 2013 recruiting class.
"I think all the running backs are really good, the freshmen, and I think they'll all be able to contribute," Saban said on Aug. 13. "Some of the guys who are showing a little bit more maturity and learning and being able to sustain performance, which I think is going to help their development and it's going to help them be able to contribute and play.
"Derrick Henry being here in the spring obviously helps his (chances). Altee Tenpenny seems like he's a guy that seems to get it and is pretty well rounded and has been able to grasp things and sort of learn quickly. But the other guys have done a good job as well."
Tenpenny and Henry both took snaps in the season opener. Tenpenny ran the ball six times for 31 yards, while Henry, the No. 1 athlete in his class, carried it just once for 3 yards.
On Tuesday, Saban scoffed at a reporter's question about the young running backs getting playing time against Virginia Tech, saying that he didn't see enough to take Yeldon, Fowler or Hart out of the game.
"I saw that they have ability and potential and they need time to develop so that they're comfortable and confident in doing what they're supposed to do and they can do it fast," he said. "They did make good contributions on special teams, both of them. And we need guys to be able to do that, and running backs are great guys to do that because they have size and speed and they're athletic."
How that translates to Drake getting carries is up for debate, though him playing on special teams is a strong possibility. Should Alabama stick with a three-man rotation at running back, it could prove difficult for Drake to break through considering how far he's dropped.