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Alabama Spring Football 2017: Previewing the running backs

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Run the ball, Daboll?

NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl-Alabama vs Washington Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

With the exception of maybe the linebackers, the running backs have been the most consistently successful and feared position groups for Alabama over the last decade. Glenn Coffee, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry, and Kenyan Drake have all gone in the top 3 rounds of their respective NFL drafts— a tremendous feat for one of the least valued positions in the NFL.

It has been a way of life for the Alabama football program, as the running back is the lifeblood of the Tide offense. The styles have changed over the years, but the results have not.

This spring, Alabama returns all of their contributors from last year’s pack of rock-toters while adding a couple more elite high school talents in January. It’s a gluttony of talent, for sure, so the question is not “will Alabama be able to run the ball?” but “which runner will emerge as the leader?”

The Departed

Derrick Gore, a back-up walk on who drew some praise over the last couple of years decided to transfer out to find more playing time somewhere else.

Backup and oft-injured Ronnie Clark has made a position switch to tight end. Whether or not the experiment sticks, though, is yet to be seen. Other than that, Alabama returns all of last year’s backs.

Returning Starters

Damien Harris

The junior from Lexington, KY, was the top dog for most of last year and led the Tide’s running corps with 1040 rushing yards on an outstanding 7.2 yards per carry. A short, stocky back, Harris plays with a smooth blend of elusiveness, power, and balance that make him a nightmare for defenders to take to the ground as he sifts through the chaos and traffic in the center of the field.

Despite leading the team in yards, Harris was behind the other rushers with only 2 touchdowns (though he did add 2 more in the passing game). That lack of points can be attributed to his odd propensity for breaking off huge runs, but getting tackled from behind just before reaching the goal line.

Bo Scarbrough

At 6’2” 228, the massive back bears resemblance to a Clydesdale running and playing in among mere mortal men. Though he struggled with injuries through his first few years on campus, the junior finally started to break out near the end of 2016 before falling in the championship game to a broken leg.

Scarbrough racked up 812 yards on a 6.5 ypc clip, and added 11 touchdowns to his stat sheet.

A blend of sheer size and speed, Scarbrough is a nightmare in the open field and when turning the corner on the outside. His lengthy stride lets him easily run away from any pursuers on the outside, while his bulk lets him bulldoze through the line of scrimmage.

Josh Jacobs

A true freshman last year, Jacobs burst onto the scene from near obscurity, and worked his way into the three-headed rotation with Harris and Scarbrough. Utilizing his silky-smooth elusiveness, Jacobs broke so many ankles in 2016 that he might has well have been a pot hole. When one-on-one with a defender, Jacobs can and will make the hapless tackler miss with a myriad of different jukes and spins that he keeps in his repertoire.

He rushed for 564 yards on 6.6 yards per carry and added 4 touchdowns, while also leading the running backs with 166 receiving yards.

Returning Reserves

B.J. Emmons

One of the top rated running backs in the nation in last year’s recruiting class, Emmons was already getting some play time early last season before suffering a season-ending injury a quarter of the way through the season. He amassed 173 yards and 2 touchdowns in his short freshman season.

Emmons is known for his exceptional speed and acceleration to go along with an aggressive running style and compact body.

Incoming Reinforcements

Najee Harris

The #1 recruit in the nation, #1 running back, and all around superstar, Najee Harris is coming in from California with a bevy of hype and fanfare. He’s a 6’2”, 225 back with a terrifyingly athletic and imposing build. Oh, and he can play receiver too.

Harris is pretty much good at everything except for maybe pure speed, and will look to push the rest of crowded position for playing time.

Brian Robinson

From Tuscaloosa, AL, the 4-star running back was one of the longest standing commitments of the 2017 class, and stuck with it despite Najee Harris committing later. At 6’1” 218, Robinson is a little different build than the rest of the Bama runners.

Despite coming in with much less fanfare than Harris, Robinson quickly established himself by running a 4.41 forty as soon as he arrived on campus, instantly becoming not only the fastest running back on the team, but the fastest overall of the offensive skill positions.

The pecking order

Most likely, the running back platoon will look similar to the start of last year. Damien Harris will spearhead the group while Bo Scarbrough eases back into the game after his injury. Josh Jacobs will also get 2-3 series each game in relief of the other two.

The biggest story line will be the battle for 4th. Will Emmons retain it? Or will one of the two talented freshman pass him up? Whoever is 4th will still get some playing time here and there, but any after that on the depth chart are unlikely to see any action.