Our unit breakdown concludes today with wrapping up the running backs, projecting the depth chart and taking a peek at the incoming athletes.
For the first time in the Saban tenure, Alabama did not sign a pure running back, and really only seriously targeted one, Leonard Fournette -he of the unfortunate nom de guerre, "Buga" - a guy who shall surely plague us for the next three seasons at LSU. (Auburn would have you believe Alabama was panting over Racean Thomas, as well, but he was never truly in play). Rather, the class was heavily focused on getting one or two key guys at several positions -notably at every defensive position and on the OL. In fact, only four true skills position players were signed in the '14 class.
Which, of course, brings us to the two "athletes" entering this fall: Ronnie Clark and Bo Scarbrough. Clark, who played dual-threat QB at Calera, was recruited most heavily by Alabama and Auburn, and it appears as though both recruited him for the defensive backfield. Assuming no further growth spurt on his 6'3", 220-pound frame, he will almost certainly play safety at Alabama. This is a position switch he seems to be comfortable with, and, given Alabama's lack of proven depth at safety over the next season or two, it will be a much-needed one for the Tide. Bo Scarbrough, the nation's No. 2 athlete, is probably more of a lock to play at running back. Given Alabama's losses in the backfield (Dee Hart, Alvin Kamara), the upcoming graduation of Jalston Fowler, and the likely loss of T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake in 2015, the numbers favor playing time for Scarbrough at some point in 2014. He is simply too big (6'2", 234) and too fast (4.5/40), to leave on the bench.
I'm also going to include the forgotten man, Tyren Jones, in this. Lest we forget, the four-star Jones was a top recruit at his position in 2013 before taking a redshirt last season. At 5'9" and 213, he's much more of a bowling bowl/plugger type than the huge, taller guys like Derrick Henry or Scarbrough. It is almost assured that he will get some sort of reps this season, even if it is on special teams or mop-up duty. One thing we do know for a certainty, at both Tennessee and USC, Kiffin loved platooning his running backs That said, no incoming player is necessarily going to shake up the depth chart.
Again, this is all supposition and guesswork. We frankly don't know if Drake is out of the doghouse, nor how much progress guys like Jones have made, nor how far Scarbrough may develop over the coming months.
Derrick Henry / Kenyan Drake*
Tyren Jones / Bo Scarbrough
Your unquestioned starter going into the 2014 season is T.J. Yeldon. As we've discussed previously, Yeldon's rushing output, his grasp of the passing (and blocking) offense, and his ability in the open field have done absolutely nothing to deserve a demotion. The wildcard comes mainly in who spells him, Henry or Drake or even Tenpenny. They are very different players, with very different skills sets. The biggest question, frankly, is in Drake. He can't be happy with a smaller role, but 2013's sideline outbursts and other attitude issues will not be countenanced. In a platoon system, there is no room for egos: Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and Eddie Lacey all waited their turns -playing understudy to the guys above them. If Drake wants to be the man, and I suspect he may, I would not at all be surprised to see him transfer over the summer or at the end of the season. For this reason, and for Henry's freakish strength and breakaway speed, I see Derrick getting a much larger role in the offense a la Richardson in 2010. I've also put an asterisk beside Fowler. There are guys on this team with similar size, but much better ball skills. I'm not convinced he stays in the ordinary running back rotation, so much as he continues his redzone situational play as an upback and receiving in the flats, where he excelled last season. Altee Tenpenny will likely get far more carries this season, either spelling Henry/Drake or as a primary mop-up and situational player. He, like many backs that came before him, is biding his time for reps, a situation which should resolve itself nicely by the end of the season.
The cupboard is not bare, by any stretch. Still, Alabama finds itself with just two seasoned feature backs, and a bevy of young talent and potential. A season like 2010, where Ingram and Richardson both played through lingering injuries, would still not be ideal given the lack of proven depth on the bench . What sayeth the peanut gallery?