He entered the University of Alabama as a myth, shattering nearly every high school rushing record, but junior running back Derrick Henry will have the backfield to himself this fall. The 6-foot-3, 242-pound Henry is coming off a monster season in 2014, accounting for 990 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns on 5.8 yards per carry while splitting the load with now-departed TJ Yeldon. As we have reported throughout the spring, Alabama's head coach Nick Saban has praised Henry on his leadership and work ethic during the team's offseason program.
Henry is known for his toughness as a downhill runner, but he has improved his footwork and has shown that he can bounce plays outside. Henry has also prepared himself to be a feature back by adding weight, watching film and guiding Alabama's young players through drills in spring practice.
After some growing pains, Henry has put in the work to be the feature back, but will Kiffin feed him more in 2015? Wisconsin gets the first taste in August of the new-look Henry: not only is he bigger, faster, stronger, but Henry will also be sporting a new jersey number, wearing No. 2 this season in honor of former Alabama wide receiver David "The Deuce" Palmer.
Since 2008, Alabama's offense has claimed success by using two running backs. Coach Saban's one-back scheme prefers to pair up players that mirrored each other in style and physical build, while also being complementary. Both backs see a relatively equal amount of field time, depending on the game situation, and it provides the offense with a change of pace.
This season, however, will be different. Alabama doesn't have a back that resembles Henry's physicality, aside from Bo Scarbrough, who will be miss a good part of the season with knee injury. The offense returns Kenyan Drake as the only other proven back, but the senior will be in a hybrid role in offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin's scheme rather than a pure 15 carry per game running back. Given Alabama's depth chart, as well as losses to arrests, graduation and injury, opposing defenses can anticipate the lion's share of touches to go through the big man.
If any back on the roster can take carries away from El Tractocito, it appears that true freshman Damien Harris looks to be the reserve with the best chance. Harris came into NSD as a highly coveted five-star running back, being ranked the No. 1 overall RB per 247's composite index. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Kentucky native was a stud for Madison Southern High School. Harris tallied 6,717 rushing yards with 111 touchdowns for his career. Former Alabama running back and Kentucky native Shaun Alexander has given Harris his blessing to be next great Crimson Tide star from the bluegrass state. (Ed. Note: Harris eclipsed most of Shaun Alexander's career high school rushing records, aside from points scored in a season and Tds tallied in a season.)
Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon all made an impact as freshmen. If Harris can learn the system and make solid adjustments this summer, he will have a legitimate shot at accumulating carries. However, like the other backs before him, the biggest adjustments will be the speed of the game and in pass protection; the latter being an area where freshmen notoriously have issues adjusting.
While Harris looks to gets some carries, and while Kenyan Drake is the unit's homerun threat, 2015 could be a Heisman-like year for Henry's production. The Florida native was a household name at Yulee High School. He recorded 12,124 career rushing yards, and captured the Maxwell Football Club National High School Player of the Year Award in 2012. He enrolled at Alabama in 2013 as a five-star prospect and hasn't looked back.