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Running Back Depth Takes Another Hit | Dee Hart Out for the Season with Torn ACL

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Remember when we had more RBs than we knew what to do with?

Despite all our sincere hoping and wishing, the rumors of true freshman running back Dee Hart tearing his ACL that started floating around last night have been confirmed:

University of Alabama freshman running back Dee Hart sustained a knee injury Tuesday, a source close to Hart told TideSports.com.

The injury was also confirmed by Hart's former position coach at Orlando Dr. Phillips High School, Riki Smith, who said the freshman tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

"He's good, you know Dee," Smith told the Orlando Sentinel. "If that had to happen to any of our kids, that's who I'd rather it happened to because he has the right mindset. The trainer told him 'ok, you have surgery on Thursday and can start rehab next week' and Dee said 'what about Friday?'"

Though Hart is only a true freshman and his relatively diminutive size stood out among the between the tackle bruisers Alabama has been recruiting since Saban's arrival, his work with the first team offense A Day (and the fact he was getting snaps before more established backs) and open field speed made him one of the most intriguing newcomers for the Crimson Tide.  His abilities as a pass catcher and route runner out of the back field, plus speed and athleticism once he gets into space, hinted at a role for Hart similar to Terry Grant's in 2007. Further, there was also hope he could contribute right away as a return man on special teams.  Alas, it apparently wasn't to be.

So where does that leave us?  With Hart out for the season and both Corey Grant and Demetrius Goode having transferred, the Tide now has only three scholarship running backs in Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, and Jalston Fowler, with walk ons Nick Tinker and Ben Howell also available.  Richardson was already going to be counted on as the workhorse of the offense, but the burden on both Lacy and Fowler just got that much greater.  Lacy performed adequately as the number two back early last season while Mark Ingram was injured, but ball security issues haunted him all season.  Meanwhile Fowler saw time in mop up duty and lined up at fullback in some of the goal line/short yardage packages, and could see his role increase as a change of pace back (though considering he's bigger than both Richardson and Lacy, it's hard to imagine him as anything more than a short yardage guy).

This also opens up the possibility of a few position changes.  Blake Sims has remained at quarterback since his arrival in Tuscaloosa despite being projected as an "athlete" destined for the secondary, and incoming freshman Brent Calloway has reportedly been promised a look at RB despite being heavily recruited as a linebacker.  Whatever happens, it should be plainly obvious that we simply can't afford anymore attrition at the running back position.

Addendum from OTS

While obviously we cannot afford any further hits to the depth chart at tailback, I do think some are exaggerating the depth impact that this loss will have. Hart had a role somewhere on this team given his raw speed and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, but at best he looked to be a third down specialist (assuming he could hold up in pass protection) behind Richardson and Lacy. At no point was he ever expected to be an every-down back or a viable short-yardage option. Losing him certainly does not help matters overall, obviously, but by the same token his loss isn't a death blow the backfield either. And yes, you do hate to lose the element of raw speed he brought to the table, but we really haven't had that at UA since Terry Grant in 2007, so it's not like it will be anything out of the ordinary to continue with the stable of physical, bruising tailbacks that 'Bama will employ this season. We've won 36 games in three years employing such backs with no small speedsters in sight, and I see no reason why his loss, in and of itself, should constitute a major blow to our chances moving forward into 2011.

The real concern is not so much the short-term depth impact, but instead how this injury may hinder Hart's long-term development. Given the advances in sports medicine, ACL injuries now come with the standard assumption that a full recovery is inevitable, but such an assumption isn't necessarily supported by real-world results, and that is especially true for players who rely heavily on their raw athleticism. Just to cite one example of many in recent years, Demetrius Goode was a speedster as a prep player, but he never regained that athleticism at 'Bama after blowing out his knee in 2007 at the opening of fall camp. Hopefully Hart can make a full recovery from this injury, but admittedly it's no given, and the concern over his long-term development ought to outweigh any short-term depth concerns at tailback.