clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Alabama Football 2016 Unit Previews: Running Backs - spoiler: they're going to be very good.

With the season a mere 42 days away, we begin our coverage of Alabama football with the running backs.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next two weeks, we'll be previewing the units in anticipation of the 2016 Alabama football season. We begin with a position of considerable depth, but short on starting experience, the running back corps. That said, "considerable depth" is a welcome change for the Tide, since Alabama has been running at a deficit since the 2014 season in the backfield.

We hope you enjoy these, and, as usual, RBR's money-back refund is available.

The Contenders

Bo Scarbrough (So.)

2015 stats: 18 carries, 104 yards (5.7 YPC,) 1 TD

The physical heir apparent to Derrick Henry, at 6'2" 240-pounds Bo Scarbrough is one of the nation's most dynamic athletes. He possesses exceptional hands, quick feat, and is the fastest of the backs (4.40/40.) That's a load for a guy who is as physically imposing as he is, being roughly the same size as last season's Heisman winner. Still, there is a glaring question mark that could limit his effectiveness, and this will be a theme for most players on this list, and that is his ability to block.

Saban will play dynamic backs early, but they will not win the starting job if they cannot block in the passing scheme. At IMG Academy and at Northridge, he was praised for his ability to pass-block, but the head man has been silent on the matter. Scarbrough also hits the line so explosively, that he will require some seasoning to let his running lanes develop in front of him a little better, but he has fantastic vision and decent balance for such an upright runner. With his versatility in the pass/run game a la Kenyan Drake, the ceiling is very high for Scarbrough, and he could wind up being the next Alabama superstar, even if his speed probably isn't quite what it's listed as on his player profiles.

Damien Harris (So.)

2015 stats: 46 carries, 157 yards (3.4 YPC,) 1 TD. 4 Rec, 13 yards

Want to talk about being reborn in fire? Damien Harris, last season's number one RB commitment came into his freshman campaign with tons of promise, but yielded uneven results. Harris, who is surprisingly shifty for his stocky frame (5'11, 214,) was far too tentative with the ball in his hands, and rarely showed the explosion or urgency required from an SEC feature back.

Call it nerves, youth, inexperience, or the painful learning curve of being pummeled by SEC front sevens, but by the time A-Day rolled around this April, Harris was a different player. He has clearly worked on his pass catching, he sees the holes far better than he did just a year ago, and he was running with more purpose and violence in the Tide's spring game. As promisingly, the east-west shimmy and shakes that plagued him last season are gone; he is getting upfield quickly while still seeking out a running lane, and he is displaying more balance than Scarbrough with the ball in his hand. On top of that, Harris also plays special teams, contributing to Holcombe's punt block in the SECCG against Florida.

Those wishing to anoint Scarbrough as the automatic starter may be disappointed, despite the fact that Bo is a superior all-around athlete. The potential is easily there for Harris to win the starting job, particularly if he plays with consistency and excels in his pass blocking, and the latter of which he has already shown promise.

The Role Players

Ronnie Clark (R.So.)

2015: 3 carries, 20 yds (6.6 ypc)

Ronnie Clark, like Bo Scarbrough, is another gifted athlete. The four-star blue chipper out of Calera came to Alabama as an outside linebacker, quarterback, and running back, but was recruited as a safety/athlete. At Alabama, he has seen snaps at both the safety position and at running back.

Given Alabama's sudden depth crisis in the defensive backfield, and the sudden wealth of talent at running back, Clark may be moved back to the defense. In either event, the team will find a role for him somewhere his season. Clark is simply too versatile to sit on the bench.

All of this is, of course, predicated on recovery from an Achilles' injury, which, sad to say, may cost Clark a season -- as a prior injury to the other one cost him 2014. It very well could also mean the end of his career, which would be a snake-bitten damned shame.

Xavian Marks (So.)

2015: 1 carry (0 yards)

Xavian Marks, standing at a whopping 5'8", 160 pounds, was not recruited to be an SEC running back. The speed demon wide receiver/running back and track phenom out of Texas was brought in to fill some very specific roles, primarily return specialist, and he will no doubt also feature in Lane Kiffin's passing scheme as well, diversionary or otherwise. Marks has unreal acceleration and skitters like a june bug, with some of the quickest feet you'll see.

The definition of a home run threat, Alabama's job will be to create touches for him in space, and then let the sophomore go nuts. Again, however, that role will likely be limited to the passing game and returns -- and, it just so happens that Alabama has an opening for KR/PR.

The Reserves

Derrick Gore (Jr.)

2015 stats: 6 carries, 15 yards, 1 tackle (SECCG)

Derrick Gore has been turning heads in practice since he arrived from Coffeeville CC (KS) in 2015. The junior made the field in seven games, including the SECCG and the CFB playoffs, and was a member of the special teams -- the latter is generally a positive sign from the coaching staff that more playing time is available.

Physically, the junior from Syracuse is built much like Damien Harris (5'11, 212) though without the complete physical gifts of Harris. However, what he lacks in pure skills, Gore makes up for in physicality -- he's just a tough guy to bring down, even if his straight line speed will not terrify players at this level. Gore may be an option down the road to chew clock, when a consistent grinder is needed to close out games. Realistically, you would think he is the 3rd or 4th back on the depth chart.

On the practice squad, Avery Reid (So.,) Lawrence Erekosimo (Jr.,) and Ty Turner (Jr.) fulfill the invaluable task of preparing the starters for Saturday contests. We love the walkons and practice squad players and not enough is made of their contribution to Alabama's preparation and execution. If there is playing time for any of the reserves, Erekosima is most likely to get the promotion.

The Freshman

Alabama only took one running back with its 2016 National Signing Day class, but he is a good one. [Ed. Note: we're adding Joshua Jacobs here, even though his immediate contributions are probably in special teams.)

The nation's number-two all-purpose running back, B.J. Emmons, is built like a pit bull: stocky, muscular, and nigh impervious.

Emmons comes to campus at 5'10", 232 pounds, and, like Scarbrough, clocks a 4.40, which is insane for a player with such a small stature carrying that much muscle. He is a pure delight to watch run, combining fluidity, vision, power, breakaway speed, balance, and quick feet.

Alongside 2017 target, Najee Harris, Emmons is plainly the future for the Tide, but do not at all be surprised to see him on the field in purely-running scenarios while he learns the passing scheme (a la Henry and Richardson before him.) Emmons is special.

Joshua Jacobs

We love Joshua Jacobs. No, really, we do. He and Emmons both have overcome some truly terrible things, but we were so struck by Jacobs' drive and purpose that we wrote an entire story just on that:

Joshua Jacobs: Education, Community, And Giving Back - Roll 'Bama Roll

National Signing Day is not even forty-eight hours old, and I have already found my favorite incoming freshman, Tulsa running back Joshua Jacobs.

The Tulsa World long form tells Josh's story, which is all too common among student athletes: broken home, poverty, bad neighborhoods, food insecurity, periods of homelessness and transient living. Josh's story, however, has a bit more hopeful transition.

Rather than leaving the neighborhood, he is determined to come back in some shape or fashion and help rebuild; rather than pouring his efforts into just a weight room, his school decision was made on the strength of the engineering programs. Jacobs' decision was made based on what school offered him the best education, as well as the best opportunity to come back and complete those long-term goals -- be that as a professional or a professional athlete.

Now, on to what he can bring to the field.

For the immediate future, Jacobs most probable role is in the kicking game and on special teams. He has very soft hands, and is particularly dangerous in the passing game. It was those hands, and his world class speed in Tulsa, that brought him from an unknown to suddenly being courted by major programs like Alabama and Oklahoma on the eve of signing day. He is listed at 5'11, 200 pounds with the oh-so-familiar 4.40/40 speed. He may actually have that speed though.

If there were any one player most likely to earn the Drake-role in Lane Kiffin's offense, Jacobs' ability to create space as a receiver, soft hands, and excellent speed make him the leading candidate. The opportunity may even be available this season to fill that role: Alabama, probably more than most, loves a specialist. However, he will need to bulk up and learn the blocking scheme to be in consideration for lots of meaningful snaps in the backfield.

Depth Chart Projection

1. Bo Scarbrough

2. Damien Harris

3. B.J. Emmons

4. Derrick Gore

5. Joshua Jacobs