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Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Forecasting the Tide: Running back

By Alex Scarborough

Editor’s note: Every Tuesday and Thursday between now and national signing day, TideNation will review each position and look at who figures to start, who could rise up the depth chart and who might be on the way. Today we’ll look at the running backs. 

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Even Eddie Lacy is in the dark about who will carry the football for the University of Alabama next season. The junior running back who declared for the NFL draft last week said he's sure T.J. Yeldon will get plenty of carries, but who the No. 2 back is remains a question mark.

"That's a tough one," Lacy said. He and Yeldon became the first pair of backs to rush for 1,000 yards in school history. "I have no idea. You get Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart coming back. No matter how they do it, I'm pretty sure they'll be the same way T.J. and I were this year, if not better."

T.J. Yeldon
T.J. Yeldon will likely be Alabama's No. 1 running back, but time will tell who will be No. 2.
If there's one thing Alabama won't be hurting for, it's options. Fowler and Hart's return to the backfield is just one piece of the puzzle. Throw in freshman Kenyan Drake and a trio of high-profile running back commitments, and the coaching staff will have a jigsaw puzzle to work out next season. It's up to running backs coach Burton Burns, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and head coach Nick Saban to make sure the pieces fit just so.

One thing is certain, however. Alabama will continue its two-back trend. In fact, it may be more than two depending on how the depth chart shakes out before the season-opener. The fresher the legs, the better.

"It's sort of a philosophical thing that we like to have two backs," Saban said earlier in the season. "We think durability is such a critical factor in running backs, that if you play one guy all the time, it enhances his chances of maybe not being able to continue to play at the same level. It's always been our goal to play two guys. Not always equally, but fairly equally to where both guys have a better chance to sustain the season at a high level and are productive throughout."

Battling for No. 1: There's no doubt it's Yeldon's job to lose. And after the way the true freshman performed this past season, it's unlikely he will surrender the top spot until he decides to move on and play in the NFL. As Mark Ingram noted on the field during the national championship game, Yeldon not only has the potential to be special, he has the ability to be better than he or Trent Richardson before it's all said and done.

Strength in numbers: Running back is the deepest position when it comes to talent and versatility. Yeldon will lead the charge, and coaches will be able to mix and match the backups based on down and distance. Fowler, who comes in at 242 pounds, could factor in on short-yardage situations, while Hart, who is just 190 pounds, could be an option on third downs with his quickness and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Even if Alabama chooses to move Fowler to H-back full time, there are still plenty of choices for Burns to turn to. Drake could wind up the No. 2 tailback by fall camp as Fowler and Hart recover from knee injuries. The former Gatorade Player of the Year led all rushers in yards per carry this past season (minimum 20 carries).

Help on the way: Not that Alabama needs it, but the reinforcements are coming. Derrick Henry, Tyren Jones and Altee Tenpenny are all verbally committed to the Crimson Tide. Henry, who set the national career record for rushing yards at Yulee High School in Florida, is the No. 1 athlete in the ESPN 150 and could play running back, H-back or linebacker. Jones and Tenpenny are your more natural, prototypical tailbacks. Both are ranked among the top 10 running backs in the ESPN 150. As far as the backlog at the position, Jones put it best, saying that, "It's just a competition. [We are] going in to push each other, to make each other work harder." Nonetheless, keep an eye on both Jones and Tenpenny heading into signing day as the potential to decommit and head to a less crowded backfield exists. Also, keep an eye on uncommitted four-star Alvin Kamara, who is scheduled to visit Alabama this weekend and will wrap up his official visits in Athens, Ga., with the Bulldogs.