This might be kind of a head scratcher for some but let's face the facts here people, with Corey Grant and Demetrius Goode having transferred, Dee Hart out for the season due to injury, no single wide receiver genuinely seperating himself from the pack to fill Julio Jones' shoes, and a new QB (or two) under center, the ground game is going to have to carry a lot of the load early and often. Can Trent Richardson handle the load of being the featured back for the first time? All signs point to yes...with a but. No one doubts that Richardson could have started for any number of BCS teams last season (and even the season before), but he benefited greatly from being the understudy to a workhorse like Mark Ingram. And let's not forget, Ingram benefited greatly from being an understudy to Glen Coffee as well, and both Coffee and Ingram benefited from such capable understudies as Ingram and Richardson. Yes, that's confusing. I'm not sure if I even understand. But the point is, if Richardson is going to have to carry a significant part of the offense a la Ingram in 2009, he's going to need a Richardson of his own to help carry the load. Enter Eddie Lacy.
A four star back out of Geismar, LA, Lacy signed in the same recruiting class as Richardson but redshirted in 2009 while the Tide rode Ingram, Richardson, and Roy Upchurch to a national title. His first taste of game action came last season in the opener against San Jose State. Recall that Mark Ingram sat the first two games of the season due to injury, thrusting Richardson into the starting role and Lacey up the depth chart with him. He rushed 13 times for 111 yards and two TDs as the #2 back behind Richardson, but an unfortunate case of fumblitis robbed him of what was likely a third TD and put him on the coach's (and fans) radar. Those unfortunate fingers cropped up several more times during the season and to be blunt it doesn't matter if he is as physical and fast as Trent Richardson, if he has ball security issues he's going to find himself with less carries.
Though Lacy won the Johnny Musso Best Offensive Back Award at the conclusion of spring practice, and generally carried the bulk of the load at running back on A Day, there are still some legitimate concerns about a couple of areas of his game. First, he's yet to really show the same abilities as a pass blocker that both Richardson and Ingram seemed to pick up so effortlessly as true freshmen. With a new QB and the possibility of either starting a true freshman (Cyrus Kouandjio) or natural guard (Barrett Jones) at LT, the backs are going to be relied on heavily in pass protection this season. Second, he's not nearly as natural of a pass catcher out of the backfield either. We've come to rely on the running backs in the passing game more and more over the last two seasons and with Dee Hart no longer an option we're looking at Jalston Fowler, as pure of a power back as you're likely to see, as the change of pace guy, and getting the ball in his hands in the open field isn't exactly a foot race in the making. Lacy has shown plenty of burst and good open field speed when he can get to the second level (just ask Michigan State), so if he can improve on both those aspects to keep Richardson from being ground into a powdery, Ken Darby like substance, the offense will be all the better for it.