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2017 Alabama Football Unit Previews: Running Backs

Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, and Josh Jacobs are all back for more.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama
Go Bo GO!
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Imagine you and some friends were going to start a college football team from scratch. You are in charge of the running backs. You would likely want a bruising back who can get those tough yards. Also, you’d want an elusive smaller back that can slip through cracks and break into defensive backfields. And of course you’d need a guy built like a linebacker who can outrun cornerbacks, because every team has a guy like that, right? Aw, heck. Why not take two?


We’ve been breaking down a good amount of the Patriots playbook in anticipation that new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s schemes will look fairly similar. What we really haven’t mentioned very much is the running game. The Pats favor a downhill, old-school power running game that should warm Tide fans’ hearts.

Counter OF

One of New England’s favorite running plays is a Counter OF. The “O” stand for a pulling offensive guard from the strongside. The “F” stands for fullback, which in Alabama’s case would likely mean H-back Ronnie Clark or tight end Miller Forristall or Irv Smith in the backfield also to the strongside. The ball goes to the weakside with the fullback leading through the hole.

They also employ the good ol' fashion one-back power game to great effect. It tends to come out of three-WR 11 Personnel with the QB in a shotgun.

Slip Screen

The Patriots also have an excellent RB slip screen that they run out of three wide receiver formations disguised as a long pass play that is designed to remove defenders from the vicinity. In layman’s terms, it’s everyone going long to clear space and then a dump to the RB. Look for a version of this play on September 2.

We also spoke of times when the running back splits out as a receiver, sometimes creating an empty set which should be fun.


Alabama returns 90% of their running back rushing production from last season. The three-headed monster of Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, and Josh Jacobs accumulated a whopping 2,416 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground. As a team, the Tide attempted 639 rushes, which placed them eighth in the nation for 2016 (the top four are triple option teams). Of course this total includes QB rushing as well.

34 Damien Harris (5-11/221) Jr. Richmond, KY - Harris is blue collar and hard-working, and probably the closest Bama has to an every down back. Last season, he led the Crimson Tide in attempts and yards (146-1037), plus yards per carry at 7.1. He has been pretty durable outside of an ankle sprain suffered against Kent State last September and sprained foot that kept him out of the A-Day game. He should be 100% on Sept 2.

8 (formerly #25) Josh Jacobs (5-10/212) Soph. Tulsa, OK - This scat back has been a pleasant surprise ever since the Tide smuggled him out of Sooner country a year ago. He thrives on his quickness and elusiveness. He tallied 567 rushing yards and four scores on 85 attempts for a 6.7 ypc average. Jacobs was the Tide’s fifth leading receiver with 156 yards on 14 receptions. He should really blossom under Daboll.

9 Bo Scarbrough (6-2/235) Jr. Northport, AL - Have you heard of this guy? He is big and he is fast but can he stay healthy? If he plans to leave for the NFL after this season, he will need to prove he can stay erect on two legs without the help of crutches. Scarbrough electrified Alabama fans amassing 454 yards and 6 TDs in the Iron Bowl and three post-season games (Auburn, Florida, Washington, Clemson). His total for the season was 812 yards on 125 carries with 11 rushing touchdowns in 13 games.


22 Najee Harris (6-2/227) Fr. Antioch, CA - Are there enough adjectives to describe this early enrollee freshman? Humble, hardworking, smart, gym rat, thoughtful, fast, strong, future star... Harris came to Alabama because it felt right. He did not look at the returning roster or a depth chart. He is focused on being the best he can be. In the A-Day game, he carried the White team on his shoulders with an unusual 17 rushes, gaining 70 hard-fought yards. He shows great running skills for such a young player, hurdling defenders, running over and around those who would dare to take him to the ground. Size, power, toughness, speed and great hands, he has it all.


Both of these freshmen RBs were early enrollees as well. They may be in the shadows right now but they are certainly no slouches.

24 Brian Robinson (6-1/218) Fr. Tuscaloosa, AL - A straight ahead runner who had a pretty good spring practice. He was timed at 4.41 in the forty. His A-Day was not so great, 7 rushes for 21 yards, and he needs to work on his pass protection.

12 Chadarius Townsend (6-0/191) Fr. Tanner, AL - In this young man, we have another versatile athlete who could play multiple positions. He was a dual-threat quarterback in high school. He spent most of the spring at wide receiver but is now listed as running back. Defensive back is another possible land spot for him someday. He is also a candidate for kickoff returns. He is described as a North-South runner when it comes to kick returns, instead of one of these guys who try to outrun everyone to the sidelines. Some have compared Townsend to former Bama receiver ArDarius Stewart.


38 Zavier Mapp (5-9 206) R-Jr. (Thomasville, Ala.) You have to really love Alabama to walk-on as a running back on this team. Here is some video of Mapp on A-Day. He was presented with the Bear Bryant Outstanding Scholarship Player Award at the conclusion of the spring game. I believe he is training to be a pediatrician. He could see time on special teams.

(Walk-ons De’Marquise Lockridge and Kendall Norris were on the spring roster but are not on the current fall roster.)


Former Tide OC Lane Kiffin had a nice pattern of starting games with Harris, sprinkling in Jacobs and then Scarbrough. I always saw Bo as the “closer”. In the Championship Game, Steve Sarkisian went almost exclusively with Scarbrough until he broke a bone in his leg. Jacobs and Harris combined for three carries through three quarters and finished with seven. Expect to see Daboll be a little more democratic with the ball than Sark. He will also use them as wide receivers.


The lazy thing to do is to list two, three or four of these stallions as co-starters. However, we do things differntly here at RBR. Below is a list in order that I believe they will see the field Sept 2.

  1. Damien Harris - He has been a workhorse on this team and because of his experience, hard work, and leadership, he’ll probably get the first carries.
  2. Bo Scarbrough - If he can prove himself healthy, Bo will be exploited for his otherworldly skills.
  3. Josh Jacobs - Expect some packages tailored especially for Jacobs.
  4. Najee Harris - Too good to redshirt, Harris will definitely see the field early and often.
  5. Chadarius Townsend - To be honest, he may just be here for depth. They may need him at safety next year. Townsend may contribute on special teams this season, maybe some carries late in cupcake games. Possible redshirt.
  6. Brian Robinson - He had a pretty rough spring game both rushing and in pass protection. I get the feeling he will redshirt to help round out his game.


Which RB will get the first carry of the season?

This poll is closed

  • 69%
    Damien Harris
    (556 votes)
  • 24%
    Bo Scarbrough
    (195 votes)
  • 4%
    Josh Jacobs
    (33 votes)
  • 1%
    Najee Harris
    (14 votes)
798 votes total Vote Now