There are two things that Nick Saban does well: Win games and recruit running backs. Alabama running backs have been among the nation’s best since Saban’s arrival in 2007.
Five Crimson Tide running backs — Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon — have been selected in the NFL Draft during Saban’s eight-year tenure in Tuscaloosa. Four of the five were drafted in the second round or higher and both Ingram and Richardson were first round selections.
But Alabama’s offense was different in 2014. Under new coordinator Lane Kiffin, the Tide put more emphasis on its passing offense than any other Saban-coached team.
Quarterback Blake Sims set the school passing record with 3,487 yards. Amari Cooper earned the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver and set every school single-season and career record for the position.
Alabama’s rushing offense ranked No. 6 in the SEC, its first year out of the top-5 since 2007. But with both Sims and Cooper departed, the Tide may see more emphasis on its running game.
Here’s everything you need to know about Alabama’s running backs in 2015.
Derrick Henry, Junior
Career Stats: 208 rush, 1,372 yards, 14 TDs, 6.6 avg
2014: 172 rush, 990 yards, 11 TDs, 5.8 avg (13 games)
247Sports Composite: 5-star, No. 12 overall, No. 1 ATH, No. 4 Florida (2013)
Henry led Alabama with 990 yards and 11 touchdowns despite getting less carries than former teammate T.J. Yeldon. However, with Yeldon’s departure he should have the breakout season many expected in 2014.
Henry’s 6.6 yards per carry career average says all you need to know about his potential to be a star. When given the opportunity he’s looked like Alabama’s most talented running back ever since his historic Sugar Bowl performance as a freshman.
As he enters his junior campaign as the team’s top running back, he may also be the No. 1 offensive weapon as the Tide faces uncertainty at wide receiver following Cooper’s departure. Henry should be Alabama’s best offensive player in 2015 and the most likely to candidate to receive Heisman consideration.
Kenyan Drake, Senior
Career Stats: 156 rush, 1,087 yards, 17 TDs, 7.0 avg.
2014: 22 rush, 112 yards, 4 TD (5 games)
247Sports Composite: 4-star, No. 129 overall, No. 5 APB, No. 11 Georgia (2012)
Drake suffered a gruesome leg injury in Alabama’s fifth game last season. He missed the remainder of the season and his status for 2015 still remains a mystery. But Saban insists that his senior tailback will be ready for the Tide’s season opener against Wisconsin on Sept. 5 in Arlington, Texas.
“Kenyan Drake is fine,” Saban said earlier this month, according to Matt Zenitz of al.com. “How many times do I have to say that? I’ve been asked about Kenyan Drake since the first day of spring practice. He was full speed all spring. He was full speed all summer, and he’s full speed now. And I think he’ll be full speed next week, God willing, and nothing happens to him.”
Drake was dressed for Alabama’s scrimmage on Saturday but did not participate due to a strained hamstring. Saban noted that he kept the senior out of action to prevent the injury from becoming a chronic issue and is still optimistic for the senior to make a successful return.
If healthy, Drake is one of the SEC’s best running backs and will provide the perfect compliment to Henry. Though he’ll see less carries, he should still provide enough output to help the Tide reclaim its spot as one of the SEC’s best rushing offenses in 2015.
Ronnie Clark, Redshirt Freshman
247Sports Composite: 4-star, No. 70 overall, No. 5 OLB, No. 5 Alabama (2014)
Clark is a two-way player who saw action at defensive back before suffering a torn achilles injury that forced him to take a medical redshirt. But with several other players suffering injuries this offseason, the redshirt freshman has shot up to No. 3 on Alabama’s depth chart.
Bo Scarborough, Redshirt Freshman
247Sports Composite: 5-star, No. 16 overall, No. 2 ATH, No. 2 Alabama (2014)
It’s been a long offseason for Bo Scarborough. He suffered an ACL tear during a scrimmage in April and also faces a 4-game NCAA mandidated suspension related to “amateurism,” which Saban confirmed earlier this month.
Scarborough was expected to see significant playing time following Altee Tenpenny’s decision to transfer this offseason and Tyren Jones’ dismissal. Despite being ahead of schedule on his rehabilitation, the freshman is unlikely to be medically cleared for the start of the season.
Damien Harris, Freshman
247Sports Composite: 5-star, No. 31 overall, No. 1 RB, No. 1 Kentucky
Harris spurned his hometown Wildcats and inevitable national champion Ohio State when he announced his commitment to Alabama in January. The five-star prospect ranked as the nation’s best running back and was a member of the 2014 All-USA First Team by USA Today. Harris rushed for 6,748 yards and 113 touchdowns in his high school career and was the 2013 Gatorade Kentucky Player of the Year. With Scarborough expected to miss significant time, Harris could compete for playing time in his debut season.
Xavian Marks, Freshman
247Sports Composite: 3-star, No. 1,811 overall, No. 32 APB, No. 218 Texas
Marks was a late edition to Alabama’s 2015 class when he and his brother, Torin, announced their commitments in July. He is a multi-sport athlete who will also join the Tide’s track team. The 5-foot-8, 155-pound ran a 10.39 second 100-meter dash, which was the second fastest time at the Texas 5-A State Meet. But he will likely see limited action during his first season in Tuscaloosa other than to provide some depth to the position as the team battles injuries.
Derrick Gore, Sophomore (Walk-on)
Gore has made an impact during fall practice and has impressed the Tide’s coaching staff, according to Scout.com’s John Garcia Jr. But, like Marks, he will ultimately serve to provide Alabama with depth in 2015.