Alabama Crimson Tide: Tyren Jones

Alabama spring wrap

April, 30, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Alabama Crimson Tide:

1. No leader at QB: Blake Sims was said to have made strides as a passer, but he took a serious step back at A-Day, throwing two interceptions. Cooper Bateman, the clear No. 2, wasn’t much better, though he did limit his turnovers. And Alec Morris, the third QB in a three-man race, shined mostly as a punter. For those looking to see separation in the quarterback race, there was none to be had.

2. Depth at RB: T.J. Yeldon and his 2,434 career rushing yards might not be moved from his starting role, but Derrick Henry will try after having what was described as a “fabulous” spring. But behind him, there’s Kenyan Drake to consider. Behind the home run hitter Drake is Altee Tenpenny -- plus Tyren Jones and Jalston Fowler. In other words, Alabama might not have a quarterback, but it has plenty of running backs to turn to in case of emergency.

3. Kiffin effect: The running backs are happy to be featured in new ways. The tight ends are pleased with becoming a bigger part of the offense. The receivers are thrilled with the simpler schemes. Even Nick Saban appears excited, saying how new offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin, will do a good job of getting the ball in playmakers’ hands.

Three questions for the fall:

[+] EnlargeJacob Coker
AP Photo/Phil SearsFlorida State transfer Jacob Coker could be the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback in 2014.
1. But what will Kiffin actually do?: A lot was said about Kiffin this spring, but there was very little in the way of evidence. Practices were kept behind closed doors and the spring game featured what one player described as only 10 percent of the playbook. New plays? We saw none. New formations? None of them either. We’ll have to wait until the regular season to see what Kiffin’s actual imprint on the offense will be.

2. Coker’s arrival: He was the white elephant in the room in the sense that he was never in the room. Jacob Coker, the transfer quarterback from Florida State, wasn’t able to compete in spring practice as he finished his degree. But he’ll be on hand for fall camp and will jump right into the competition for the starting job.

3. Secondary concerns: Landon Collins might be the only sure thing about the Alabama secondary. The safety just so happens to be the only returning starter, too. Nick Perry, Geno Smith and Jarrick Williams will battle it out at free safety and the two cornerback spots are still up for grabs after Eddie Jackson tore his ACL during the spring. Early enrollee freshman Tony Brown shined at A-Day and fellow five-star signee Marlon Humphrey is on the way.

One way-too-early prediction:

It seems like a sturdy ledge, so let’s walk it: Coker will be named the starting quarterback before the start of the regular season. Simply put, Sims is not the type of quarterback to work long-term in a pro-style offense. And whatever added dimension he brought as a runner, Coker also possesses. Alabama wouldn’t have accepted a transfer like Coker if they didn’t believe he could start. And after what we saw from the other quarterbacks at A-Day, there’s no reason to believe he can’t win the job.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Four touchdowns versus 14.

Three hundred and eighty-two yards versus 1,235.

Thirty-five carries versus 207.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAlabama tailback T.J. Yeldon wants to improve his acceleration this offseason.
Two 100-yard games versus six.

If it weren’t Derrick Henry, we wouldn’t be making the comparison. His freshman season was promising with 382 rushing yards and four total touchdowns. But if he weren’t Derrick Henry and this wasn’t Alabama, how important would he really be?

It’s not Henry’s fault. He didn’t fuel the hype of his arrival in Tuscaloosa. He never once compared himself to T.J. Yeldon. The fans and the media did that for him.

Thanks to his potential and one breakout game -- not two or three or four to create, you know, a trend -- he went from a project at running back into a contender not only to beat out Yeldon for the starting job, but someone to watch in the Heisman Trophy race. Or so that’s how the story goes. Bovada, a sports gambling website, bought in, giving Henry 28-to-1 odds to hoist the bronze award.

Talk about a runaway hype train. Check your sense of reality at the gate.

Well, consider this your derailment. Or, on a slightly more positive note, consider this an appreciation of all that T.J. Yeldon is as a running back.

Those numbers listed earlier -- 1,235 yards, 14 touchdowns, 207 carries -- they were all Yeldon’s in 2013. In what has become a symptom of the greater Alabama fan, overlooking established starters for the next big thing, Yeldon’s accomplishments were lost in the shuffle. Never mind that he was named first-team All-SEC by the league’s coaches. Never mind that he followed up the best season of a freshman running back in school history by improving his production in every important category. Never mind that he’s only now a junior and could very well make the leap to the NFL after this coming season.

Henry will be around for a while longer. His turn will come. Yeldon’s time is now.

Yeldon’s sophomore campaign was viewed as underwhelming by some ridiculous accounts, even though his 102.9 yards per game trailed only Tre Mason and Jeremy Hill in the SEC. Yeldon was said to be not enough of an explosive tailback, even though his 34 rushes for 10 or more yards ranked 30th nationally, ahead of the likes of Todd Gurley, Devonta Freeman and Duke Johnson.

You think Yeldon didn’t hear all the chatter? He certainly played like he did on Saturday, doing his part to remind fans how only three other running backs in the country will enter the 2014 season with more career rushing yards than his 2,343.

For the second A-Day in his career, Yeldon won the Dixie Howell Award for the game’s most valuable player. In a scrimmage in which he touched the ball just 12 times, he totaled 104 all-purpose yards. He had one touchdown and the longest run of the day -- 36 yards. Meanwhile, Henry accounted for 22 yards rushing on eight carries and -2 yards on one reception. The 73,000-plus fans who came to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday to see Henry cash in on the hype instead saw Yeldon show once again why he’s the starting tailback at Alabama.

“You’ve seen T.J. get the MVP, so you can’t overlook him,” linebacker Reggie Ragland said after the game. “He’s going to do what he needs to do on the field and make plays.”

Yeldon, meanwhile, was his usual understated self. Shy when it comes to speaking with the media, it was his first turn in front of the cameras all spring. And in typical Yeldon fashion, he’d rather let his play do the talking.

When asked whether it was a big deal to win the A-Day MVP, he said, “Not really,” adding that he believed a defensive player would take home the award. When asked about the competition among the running backs, he said it fueled him.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Henry
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAlabama's Derrick Henry had a breakout game in the Allstate Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma with 161 yards and two touchdowns on just nine touches.
“It’s really competitive,” he said. “We’ve got Altee [Tenpenny], Tyren [Jones]. We can all play. We’re all helping each other get better, I think.”

Entering the spring, Yeldon said his mindset was “like trying to take over a game” and despite the incessant talk of his backups, he did just that.

Now, as spring gives way to the offseason, Yeldon’s focus is on getting himself better. He said he wants to get stronger and faster, spending more time in the weight room. One specific area he said he’d like to improve is his acceleration.

A bigger, quicker Yeldon might be the last thing SEC defenses are hoping for. And with Henry coming up the rear, Alabama could have a formidable one-two punch.

But make no mistake who’s first in that scenario.

Henry is surely coming into his own. After simply taking the handoff and running in high school, he’s learning how to do the little things, like pass protection and pass catching.

Just remember that Yeldon already knows how to do all those things and more. Under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, he could become even more dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield.

Henry will be special in time, but Yeldon is special right now. He might not have the following or the hype of Henry, but he has the thing that matters most of all: production. And until the numbers change, it’s Yeldon first and Henry second.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- With the start of spring practice only a few weeks away, we’re spending this week discussing five players to keep an eye on when Alabama opens camp on March 15.

Because they’re unpredictable, we’ll avoid first-year players like Cam Robinson. If you want an idea of who could make an instant impact in 2014, we wrote about that shortly after signing day.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Henry
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDerrick Henry showed what he could do in the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma, rushing for 100 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
So instead, let’s start by taking a look at an athlete who made a splash late last season as a true freshman, creating big expectations for his sophomore campaign.

RB Derrick Henry
Sophomore
6-foot-3, 238 pounds

Credentials: Was he a running back or a linebacker? At 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds -- all muscle, we should add -- it was hard to tell. We hadn’t seen him run the football yet, so for a while he looked like a project. Did he have the necessary speed and elusiveness to get through the holes up front and hit the second level of the defense? And then came the Sugar Bowl. Yes, it took Henry some time to work his way up the food chain at running back, but when he did, he was special. He got around the Oklahoma defense just fine in New Orleans, rushing for 100 yards and a touchdown on eight carries in addition to taking a short pass 43 yards for another score. All told, the former five-star athlete ran for 382 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries as a freshman.

How he fits: And herein lies the rub. Henry, with what he showed against the Sooners, might be more explosive than Alabama’s incumbent starting running back T.J. Yeldon. Given Yeldon’s fumbling woes, many fans are clamoring for Henry to replace him as the lead back. But Alabama has been through this before. Both the Mark Ingram-Trent Richardson and Richardson-Eddie Lacy tandems were balancing acts, and this coming season should be no different. Except that there’s a third back, Kenyan Drake, also begging for carries. Talk about explosion and speed, and you’re talking about Drake, who can take the ball to paydirt any time it touches his hands. One thing is certain: Running backs coach Burton Burns will have a tough time sorting out the depth chart when the season rolls around.

Best case/worst case: We’ve made the mistake of assuming the depth chart order at running back before and have been burned. There’s a case to be made that Henry should start, which would be an intriguing outcome to say the least. But there’s another case, one based on seniority and experience, that could land him third or fourth on the depth chart. You know about Yeldon and Drake, but there’s also the veteran Jalston Fowler and the blue-chip newcomer Bo Scarbrough to consider. Tyren Jones and Altee Tenpenny are on campus too, remember? The good news for the bevy of Alabama tailbacks is that new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin shouldn’t be constrained by position titles. The former USC head coach is seen as something of an innovator on offense and could move players like Henry, Fowler and Scarbrough around to places like H-back and slot receiver to get them touches.

Dee Hart faces possession charge

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
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Former Alabama running back Dee Hart was arrested Sunday for possession of marijuana and giving false information, according to reports.

Hart, who was a top recruit for Alabama in 2011, was supposed to head into the fall for his junior season on the field, but the school announced that he is no longer part of the football team. He hasn't been with the team since Alabama's 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Here's the statement from Alabama on Hart's status:
"Dee Hart has not been a part of the football team since the bowl game and has not participated in any of the offseason program. Hopefully he will learn from this mistake and continue to work toward completing his degree, which he is on track to do by the summer."

[+] EnlargeDee Hart
AP Photo/ Butch DillDee Hart never really got his career off the ground at Alabama.
It's unknown if Hart could return to the team beforehand, but this recent arrest certainly won't help him. Hart might have been a top recruit for the Crimson Tide a few years ago, but he was never able to really make much movement on the Tide's depth chart. Hart suffered season-ending ACL injuries in 2011 and 2012 and tried out at cornerback last year before moving back to running back.

Hart rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in 2013 and had 166 yards and a touchdown on 43 career carries with Alabama.

With the return of back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher T.J. Yeldon and backups Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry, it might have been tough for Hart to rise through the ranks at running back. Not to mention, rising sophomore Altee Tenpenny, a former ESPN 300 recruit, saw action last season and Tyren Jones, also an ESPN 300 prospect in 2012, redshirted last year. The arrival of highly touted five-star athlete Bo Scarbrough won't help either, with Scarbrough expected to start his Alabama career at running back.

Heading into the spring, it appears the top spot at running back is going to come down to Yeldon or Henry, who had a breakout performance in the Sugar Bowl. Hart might have a tremendous amount of athleticism and his work ethic was once thoroughly praised by coach Nick Saban, but the chances of him jumping those two was minimal. The chances of him pushing the others out of the way at this point in his career was going to be a mountain to climb as well.

Alabama will be fine without Hart, but here's hoping Hart lands on his feet soon.

Five things: Alabama-Colorado State

September, 21, 2013
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's been a while, Tuscaloosa. For the first time this season, Bryant-Denny Stadium will be put to use, as No. 1 Alabama hosts Colorado State for its home opener.

Here's what we'll be watching when the Crimson Tide kick off on campus.

Secondary seeking answers: They've heard the criticism all week after getting their doors blown off by Texas A&M this past weekend. The Aggies cut through the UA secondary like hot butter as Johnny Manziel bought time in and out of the pocket before inevitably finding a receiver downfield for a big gain. Mike Evans, by himself, amassed more than 250 yards receiving against a carousel of cornerbacks. In response, Alabama coach Nick Saban called for something of an open competition at defensive back with youngsters like Bradley Sylve, Cyrus Jones, Maurice Smith and possibly Eddie Jackson getting looks against CSU. The Rams aren't near the passing threat of Texas A&M, but they're nonetheless the next challenge and the next opportunity to right the ship.

Running back rotation: We might have to wait until the second quarter to see UA starting tailback T.J. Yeldon, who will reportedly be suspended for a quarter for the unsportsmanlike penalty he received last week against Texas A&M. But even so, the timing couldn't be better as Alabama looks to sort out its running back rotation. Saban said in the offseason that he wanted a five- or six-deep group of backs, and so far we've seen plenty of Yeldon and lead backup Jalston Fowler, but the rest of the backfield hasn't been showcased much. Dee Hart should get some carries, and we'll likely see true freshmen Altee Tenpenny and Derrick Henry get their chances against CSU as well. But how the carries are distributed and whether fellow rookie tailback Tyren Jones sees the field remains to be seen.

Is Amari Cooper in a slump? He's dealt with a number of nagging injuries this year, but he hasn't missed any games because of it. And, according to Saban, defenses aren't do anything different to keep him in check. So why exactly is Alabama's top receiver suddenly not himself? The former Freshman All-SEC selection hasn't had the impact on the game we became accustomed to last year and he hasn't been as sure-handed either, dropping a number of passes against Virginia Tech and Texas A&M. He's tied for the team lead with six receptions, but he's only racked up 72 yards and no touchdowns in the process. Getting Cooper back on track in time for the meat of the SEC schedule will be vital for Alabama's offense.

Continuing progress on the O-line: Alabama's offensive line responded in a big way this past weekend after being abused by Virginia Tech in the season opener. Cyrus Kouandjio and Co. helped open big holes in the running game and protected AJ McCarron beautifully against Texas A&M, enforcing its will much in the same way we saw from Alabama's line a year ago. But will it continue? We'll see against the Rams, who admittedly don't offer much in the way of All-American defenders. Keeping last week's momentum going might be difficult, though, if starting right guard Anthony Steen is unable to play after injuring himself against the Aggies. Kellen Williams, who filled in admirably in his absence, could be called on to give Steen a rest early if the pain he experienced last weekend returns.

Championship fatigue: It's been written about a good deal -- Alabama fans getting tired of winning. After three championships in four season, would anyone blame them? Alabama winning football games has become something of a ho-hum affair of late. Setting aside the time and money to see the Tide play in Bryant-Denny Stadium isn't quite as appealing when you know the outcome of the game ahead of time. Heck, some students would rather stay home and watch the game on TV with the luxury of being able to channel surf when the score inevitably gets out of hand. If fans truly are getting tired of going to games, we'll see the effect in the bleachers against nonconference cupcakes like Colorado State.

Planning for success: Alabama

September, 19, 2013
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Don't exhale too much after No. 1 Alabama's thrilling win over No. 10 Texas A&M this past weekend. The Crimson Tide get right back at it against an eager Colorado State team at home on Saturday night:

The Crimson Tide will win if …

If Alabama plays like it did against Texas A&M last weekend, this game will be over by the end of the first quarter. Against the Aggies, UA rediscovered its offensive identity -- between-the-tackles running, play-action passing -- and a reenergized offensive line deserves the bulk of credit for that. Though Texas A&M's defense was porous, Colorado State's won't be much better, if at all. The Rams gave up 41 points to Colorado in their season opener and followed that up with a 30-point performance against Tulsa. So long as Alabama's defense doesn't encounter another Mike Evans-Johnny Manziel type combination in Colorado State, it should be fine.

The Rams will win if ...

Jim McElwain's Rams catch Alabama sleeping, which isn't out of the realm of possibility after a difficult, draining game on the road the previous week. With Ole Miss to follow, this might be something of a trap game. A quick score and a few turnovers could put Colorado State in the driver's seat early. That said, it's hard to imagine UA coach Nick Saban won't have his players ready for this game. Alabama might have escaped Kyle Field with a win, but it also learned a lot about its own flaws. Because of that, the Tide should come out with something to prove, especially on defense.

Colorado State players to watch

QB Garrett Grayson: The junior quarterback had one of the best games of his career last week, throwing for 297 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-17 win over Cal Poly at home.

WR Chris Higgins and Jordan Vaden: Alabama's secondary was exposed by a tall wide receiver in Evans a week ago. This time UA must face a pair of sizable receivers in 6-foot-2 Rashard Higgins and 6-foot-3 Jordan Vaden. The two have combined for 17 receptions for 205 yards and two touchdowns.

LB Shaquil Barrett: The senior All-Mountain West linebacker is fourth on the team in tackles (21), but he's been the best at getting into the backfield with seven tackles for loss and two sacks.

Alabama players to watch

CB Cyrus Jones: His first foray into meaningful action at cornerback had its good and bad last weekend. He struggled to stop Evans -- so did everyone else who tried -- but his end zone interception was arguably the turning point in the game. With Deion Belue banged up and Alabama in search of answers in the secondary, Jones could cement his place in the rotation, if not the starting lineup.

WR Amari Cooper: Through the first two games of the season, it's fair to call 2013 a sophomore slump of sorts for Cooper. The former All-SEC wideout has just six receptions and no touchdowns, but it's the drops that are bothersome. Injuries are likely partly to blame, but he's missed on some very catchable balls.

Running back corps: We heard all offseason and preseason that the running back corps would go five or even six deep, but so far we haven't seen much of that depth play itself out. The Texas A&M and Virginia Tech games didn't provide much of a venue to use everyone effectively, but Colorado State should be that opportunity to see how the back end of the rotation will work. Will Altee Tenpenny continue to be the leader of the freshmen backs? Or will Derrick Henry take the reins? And let's not forget Tyren Jones, who could play a part as well.

Key stats

6.3: The difference between Game 1 and 2 for Alabama's offensive line was like night and day. After averaging 3.5 yards per rush against Virginia Tech, Alabama came back against Texas A&M and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. Yards before contact improved as well, shooting up from an average of 1.1 yards to 3.9.

12.9: An improved running game brought back Alabama's play-action attack as AJ McCarron went from completing 3 of 8 such passes for an average of 2.6 yards per attempt against the Hokies to completing 7 of 10 play-action attempts for two touchdowns and an average of 12.9 yards per attempt.

20: Alabama has won an impressive 20 games in a row against nonconference opponents. During Saban's tenure, the Tide is 27-3 in nonconference games, outscoring those opponents 1,145-333.

Information from ESPN Stats & Information was used in this article.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- They all look the part: long, lean, athletic. It's easy to see why they arrived in on campus with four or five stars assigned to their names.

On the practice field, Alabama's freshmen hardly look green. The country's No. 1-ranked class hasn't disappointed the eye test. Throughout fall camp, you could see their potential.

More importantly, though, you could begin to see where they might fit into the defending champion Crimson Tide's plans.

This year, not the next or the year after that, some Alabama's 25 scholarship freshmen will be called on to contribute, whether it's on special teams or in a more meaningful way on offense or defense.

Last season, 10 true freshmen played for Alabama. Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon headlined the group, but players such as Denzel Devall, Darren Lake and Geno Smith made a difference as well. Kenyan Drake carried the ball 42 times at tailback and Cyrus Jones totaled 364 all-purpose yards between playing wide receiver and returning punts.

Starting Saturday, we'll begin to see how many members of Alabama's 2013 signing class make a similar impact. After watching them develop over the past few months, here's our best guess.

Ready now

[+] EnlargeReuben Foster
Miller Safrit/ESPNFreshman linebacker Reuben Foster is getting more reps in practice.
WR Raheem Falkins: He's more than just the tallest wideout on the roster at 6-foot-4. The former three-star prospect from Louisiana has been a vacuum catching the football, impressing coaches and players alike. AJ McCarron said he's liked what he's seen. With his size, he could become a favorite target in short-yardage and red-zone situations.

ILB Reuben Foster: Saban has lauded the blue-chipper's progress throughout camp, noting a "tremendous amount of progress." He's been rewarded with increased reps to help cut down on the learning curve, and it looks as if he's made the most of it. Though he'll likely start out on special teams, don't be surprised if he makes his way into the rotation at inside linebacker early on.

TE/H O.J. Howard: He's shown signs of promise in the passing game, but the staff wants to see more. The 6-6, 237-pound Howard has all the gifts athletically to terrify defenses with his wide receiver speed and a power forward size. Even if he's a ways off in terms of his comfort level with the playbook, as Saban has indicated, it's hard to see the staff keeping him off the field.

OG Grant Hill: His name has consistently come up among those who have made an impression on his teammates. And he hasn't disappointed on the field, either. The former No. 1 offensive guard in the country has played some tackle, backing up Cyrus Kouandjio on the left side. Though he won't start, you have to expect injuries will happen in the SEC. Should Kouandjio or another lineman go down, the staff could be tempted to put Hill in.

LS Cole Mazza: With long-time snapper Carson Tinker gone, the specialist role is all Mazza's. On field goal attempts and punts, he'll be the one delivering the football.

Freshmen tailbacks: Not one or two, but all four of Alabama's coveted freshmen tailbacks are expected to play as rookies. Derrick Henry is likely the group's ringleader and is the most ready to contribute, but Altee Tenpenny and Tyren Jones have impressed as well. When Alvin Kamara returns from injury, he could be an added dimension to the offense, a scat-back type who can catch the ball out of the backfield or split out at wide receiver.

Coming soon

WR Robert Foster: He could be the best player to not see the field for Alabama this season. The former top-five wide receiver prospect came to camp at the last moment but never looked like he missed a beat, showing off tremendous athleticism and good hands. Because of the Tide's depth at the position, he shouldn't be needed this season. But if injuries occur, he could be called on.

OL Brandon Hill: No player made better progress physically from the spring to the fall than Hill, who is listed at 6-6 and 385 pounds and shed somewhere around 50 pounds during the course of the offseason. Though he's still not the ideal weight for a tackle, you can see now why the staff was so high on him. He's big, obviously, but he's got good quickness and strength, too. Like so many of this year's starters, he could come off the bench late in games as part of the second-team offensive line.

S Jai Miller: He's no rookie at nearly 30 years old, not to mention he's 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds. Miller, who spent a decade playing professional baseball, has experienced something of a learning curve since walking on at Alabama and only recently have we started to see where he might establish a role for himself. He's shadowed Landon Collins at money (dime) defensive back of late and could be a real spark for the Tide on special teams.

DLs Jonathan Allen, Dee Liner and A'Shawn Robinson: Senior defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan called the Tide's group of rookies the smartest he'd ever seen. Saban followed up that comment by saying all three have the ability to contribute this coming season. In need of pass-rushers, Allen and Liner could come off the bench to provide that spark. And Robinson, a mammoth of a freshman at 320 pounds, could give depth at nose guard, where Brandon Ivory is coming off an injury.

CBs Maurice Smith and Eddie Jackson: The battle for a rookie to play cornerback at Alabama is so steep, most don't make it. Geno Smith's late ascent to the starting lineup last season was rare. Though Smith and Jackson fit the bill physically as 6-footers with good size, the learning curve will be difficult with Saban handling the position himself. With the Tide thin at corner, they could make an impact late in the season if they play their cards right.

A ways off

CBs Jonathan Cook and Anthony Averett: There's time left to jockey for position, but it looks like Smith and Jackson have passed fellow rookies Cook and Averett on the fast track to playing time.

LBs Tim Williams and Walker Jones: It's hard to see either Williams or Jones playing much as rookies. Jones has too much ahead of him and Williams, who has made strides during camp and looks like a young Adrian Hubbard, isn't there physically yet.

WR ArDarius Stewart: He came in as an athlete who could have played on either offense or defense. Ultimately the staff put him at wide receiver, where he's looked good, but he'll need time to adjust to playing there full time.

QBs Cooper Bateman, Parker McLeod and Luke Del Rio: Ideally, all three will redshirt the season and retain full eligibility heading into next season, when the Tide will figure out who AJ McCarron's successor will be. With Blake Sims and Alec Morris dueling it out for No. 2 now, expect the rookies to ride the bench and learn the ropes in 2013.
YeldonRandy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsSophomores T.J. Yeldon (pictured) and Kenyan Drake are established Alabama tailbacks, but the Crimson Tide are hoping that their four incoming freshman can provide immediate depth.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban is no stranger to managing a crowded backfield. Since he took over as head coach at Alabama in 2007, he's featured two lead tailbacks and a supporting cast of one or more every season. Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy were the players fans across the country knew best, but they wouldn't have been as explosive as they were without help from the bench.

T.J. Yeldon understands that. The soft-spoken sophomore backed up Lacy in 2012 and was able to make a name for himself in the process, becoming the first UA tailback to rush for more than 1,000 yards in his freshman season. All told the former four-star prospect from South Alabama ran for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns on 12.5 carries per game.

"He's bright. He learns well. He understands the offense. He's a good blocker. He's a complete player. He's a really good receiver, and he's a good runner," Saban said of his Pre-Season All-SEC back. "And he understands what he's doing, and he's played enough that his knowledge and experience certainly helps him with the rest of the players."

Yeldon and his presumptive backup, Kenyan Drake, are givens, but the rest of the backfield is where things get sticky. Where will the rest of the Tide's cast of characters fit in?

In addition to veterans Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart, Alabama signed four tailbacks in the 2013 class. Each rookie brings something different to the table: Derrick Henry is a physical freak at 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds, Altee Tenpenny is a bruiser with good lower body strength, Alvin Kamara is a scat-back type with good catching ability and Tyren Jones is a somewhere in the middle, a power back with good shiftiness and explosion. And according to those inside the program, all four not only are on track to play early, but are expected to do so this season.

Saban hinted as much at his signing day press conference when he scoffed at the notion of a "stacked" running back corps. He said then that good depth at the position meant five really good players, with three playing a lot. With Fowler practicing at H-back and Hart a question mark given his health concerns, the numbers add up.

On Tuesday, Saban updated the situation at tailback and praised his freshmen in the process.

"I think all the running backs are really good, the freshmen, and I think they'll all be able to contribute," he said. "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."

Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said less than two weeks earlier that the most important thing for the young backs such as Tenpenny and Henry is to get the system down pat. Then and only then can they move on to the idea of playing time.

"So that's the biggest thing is to teach them once again the big picture -- how you get lined up, what kind of stance, what kind of footwork. Everybody focuses on the running back position about what the player does with the ball in their hands. There's so much more to it," he said. "You start talking about protection-type things. What we see from our defense every day, the complexity of blitzes and those type of things, it's very important that those guys grow in that area.

"[The coaches are] very, very pleased with the depth that we have there, really good players. Jalston Fowler, you know he missed most of last season. Dee Hart coming back off of injury. Kenyan Drake returning. And then we talked about Derrick and the young guys that are coming in. So we've got a lot of depth there."

Yeldon told reporters on Tuesday that the young backs have been leaning on him for advice while they learn the ropes during fall camp. Funny because it was only a year ago that he was doing the same thing, splitting carries as he studied under Lacy. Now it's Yeldon leading the charge as he wonders who will split carries with him as the team's feature back.

But who looks best so far? Yeldon can't tell.

"Every guy is different," he said. "They have different running abilities. All of them are looking pretty good."
Landon CollinsMarvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsFreshman O.J. Howard is already a load for Alabama, as the four-star tight end will most certainly see quite a bit of playing time for the Crimson Tide this season.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- They haven't taken their first college class, but Alabama's freshmen have begun their education in Tuscaloosa. Fall camp, with all the difficulties and challenges it presents, is in full swing for the defending champion Crimson Tide and rookies such as Reuben Foster and Grant Hill are getting their first taste of what it means to compete in the SEC.

With a full week of practice already in the books, Alabama's No. 1-ranked signing class has been met with overwhelmingly positive reviews. Veteran defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan said there are some potential impact players in the class, saying of the group: "They're really smart, they're fast, they're big."

Ed Stinson, another established player on the defensive line, said the newcomers don't even look like freshmen.

"They're some big boys," he said. "They're strong."

Nick Saban, meanwhile, wasn't nearly as complimentary. That's to be expected, as the seventh-year head coach has had impressive looking players before. What he cares about is how they put those talents to use.

"You can look at that glass as half empty or half full," Saban said earlier in the week. "You see some players who can do it and you see some players who struggle to do it. I'm not disappointed. You make players aware of it. You point it out to them. 'Are you giving the kind of effort that you need? Are you having the kind of focus to execute the technique we need to have you execute?' I don't think there's any player who doesn't want to do it. It's just building the maturity and mental toughness to sustain it. That's part of the development of every player. The older players can do it because they've been through it before and can understand it. It's a process that the younger players have to go through so that they can develop those qualities and characteristics."

Saban wouldn't say who has disappointed and who has impressed. That's not his way. But this reporter has no such qualms. In this week's edition of Alabama Intel, we look at which freshmen have stood out so far.



TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There goes the family vacation. Alabama fans planning their annual pilgrimage to Tuscaloosa for the A-Day scrimmage this Saturday were hit with some disappointing news when it was learned that fab freshman tailback Derrick Henry would miss the remainder of spring because of a fractured leg.

A-Day had been built as Henry's opening act. For months, we had heard how talented the former five-star athlete was: A 6-foot-3, 238-pound man-child with the shoulders of a linebacker and the feet of a tailback. Much of signing day was devoted to what position he would play at Alabama: running back, H-back, linebacker, something in between?

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The last month has been a productive one for the University of Alabama in terms of recruiting.

Sure, the Crimson Tide still have just three commitments for 2014 -- far less than they’ve had at this time in years past -- but since the beginning of spring practice, they have hosted some of the nation’s top recruits. If the talent on campus this spring is any indication, Nick Saban is well on his way to another No. 1 recruiting class.

With just a week until A-Day, TideNation breaks down the recent visitors, position-by-position, beginning with the offense Thursday.


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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The majority of Alabama’s early enrollees in the 2013 class come from the offensive side of the ball, but the most intriguing newcomer has to be five-star athlete Derrick Henry. How big is he? What’s he look like after a month in the Crimson Tide’s new weight room? Most importantly, what position will he play?

Those questions will be answered on Saturday when Henry takes the field for the first time with his Alabama teammates as the Tide open spring practice.


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The O-zone: Grading the 2013 class 

February, 13, 2013
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Last week, the University of Alabama inked the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class for the second year in a row. The class was made up of prospects from 13 different states and featured a combination of skill players and interior linemen.

This week’s O-zone takes a closer look at the class, breaking down its strengths and weaknesses, and singling out a few players who could stand out when they get on campus.


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The Uncommitteds: Alvin Kamara 

February, 5, 2013
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Editor's note: From now until signing day, TideNation will examine the remaining uncommitted prospects still considering the University of Alabama. Today, we look at ESPN 150 running back Alvin Kamara.


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Editor's note: This is a series introducing Alabama's 2013 recruiting class that will run through signing day.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama already has three players committed to play running back and could add one more before signing day, but that hasn’t deterred ESPN 150 back Tyren Jones, who gave his verbal pledge to the Crimson Tide in February. Jones has proven to be one of the top rushers in the state of Georgia over the last two years, and he’s looking to take that success with him to Tuscaloosa.

Q: What made you commit to Alabama?


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