Alabama appears poised to include at least three running backs in its signing class Wednesday, which seems like a lot for a school that already returns four next season.
But considering the way Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban likes to rotate running backs and the rate they can get hurt, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to have so many on board.
“It is the new age of college football,” said John Garcia Jr., a recruiting analyst for Scout.com. “The days of the three-year starter who gets 300-plus touches are starting to go away.
“It’s closer to what Alabama is doing — split carries between guys. Certainly, Alabama has had success with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson before, and Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon this year.”
Wednesday is national signing day, and Alabama has filled 22 of its 25 spots for its class. That includes commitments from running backs Derrick Henry (6-foot-3, 243 pounds) from Yulee (Fla.) High, Tyren Jones (5-8, 185) from Walton High in Marietta, Ga., and Altee Tenpenny (6-0, 212) of North Little Rock (Ark.) High.
In addition, Alvin Kamara (5-10, 192) of Norcross (Ga.) High is considering Alabama and spent the weekend in Tuscaloosa on an unofficial visit.
The new guys will join a backfield already crowded with junior-to-be Jalston Fowler, sophomores T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake and Dee Hart.
“With the trend of colleges going to splitting carries, Alabama epitomizes that, and they’re selling the chance to compete for playing time, no matter how many guys are there,” Garcia said.
Since Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, he has followed a similar formula every season. There’s a starter who gets about 15 to 21 carries a game. Trent Richardson has had the most carries under Saban, averaging 21.8 a game in 2011.
The chief backup gets about nine to 12 carries a game. This year’s top backup, Yeldon, averaged 12.5 carries.
A third guy will get about 48 to 56 carries for the year. This year, Fowler and Drake combined for 53.
All-Southeastern Conference running back Eddie Lacy was the starter for all 14 games this year but averaged only 14.6 carries a game. Nationally, 73 guys averaged more, even though Alabama was 16th in the country in rushing yards.
“We’ve always had two backs,” Saban said.
“It’s sort of a philosophical thing that we like to have two backs. We think durability is such a critical factor in running backs, that if you play one guy all the time, it enhances his chances of maybe not being able to continue to play at the same level.”
Durability was an issue this year. Lacy had offseason surgery to correct his turf-toe problem, and it affected him early. Fowler and Hart also suffered season-ending knee injuries.
In addition, Lacy also missed the end of the Tide’s win over LSU with a foot injury, which left Alabama with only Yeldon and Drake.
Henry averaged 35.4 carries a game this year as he set the national career rushing record. His 12,124 yards broke a mark set by Ken Hall of Sugar Land, Texas, in 1953.
However, he carried a large load in getting that many yards. His 462 carries as a senior for Yulee are more than Lacy had in three years at Alabama (358).
Henry is a similar size to Fowler, who is 6-1 and 242 pounds. Fowler was set to help Alabama at H-back this season as well as running back, and it’s possible Henry could lend depth at both spots, too.
Tenpenny, who has a similar build to Yeldon (6-2, 216), split time this season with another top running back at North Little Rock. Juan Day, a junior, committed to Arkansas after rushing for about 1,000 yards this season.
Jones, who is built like Hart (5-9, 190), was the Georgia offensive player of the year as a junior but missed the final three games of this past season with a sprained knee.
In addition, multiple reports say he got into an altercation with a sophomore teammate in the Walton High locker room Friday. Jones’ jaw reportedly was broken in two places and will require surgery Monday.
Contact Mark Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-340-2461.