Analysis: For 2013, Saban has plenty of ball carries, receivers
by Mark Edwards
Mar 11, 2013 | 4675 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TUSCALOOSA — Spring practice begins Saturday for Alabama, which makes now a great time to examine what the defending national champion returns at each position.

After reviewing the quarterbacks Sunday, we’ll examine the receivers and running backs today, looking at who’s in the mix to play.

Running backs ready for spring: T.J. Yeldon, sophomore; Kenyan Drake, sophomore; Dee Hart, sophomore; Jalston Fowler, junior; Derrick Henry, freshman.

Running backs coming in the fall: Altee Tenpenny, freshman; Alvin Kamara, freshman; Tyren Jones, freshman.

Wide receivers ready for spring: Amari Cooper, sophomore; Kenny Bell, senior; Kevin Norwood, senior; Christion Jones, junior; DeAndrew White, junior; Cyrus Jones, sophomore; Chris Black, redshirt freshman; Raheem Falkins, freshman. (Sophomore Marvin Shinn is considering transferring, and sophomore Danny Woodson Jr. has been suspended.)

Wide receiver coming in the fall: Robert Foster, freshman.

Outlook: Yeldon shined at running back, and there’s no doubt he will retain his spot in the Crimson Tide’s two-man rotation.

He rushed for 1,108 yards last season, which is a school freshman record. His only change in 2013 will be moving into the starting lineup, as 2012 starter Eddie Lacy has moved on to the NFL.

Plenty of guys are competing to get carries behind Yeldon, and here’s someone to watch: Henry, who has enrolled in time to go through spring practice.

Tide coach Nick Saban isn’t shy about playing freshmen. Since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, Terry Grant, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Yeldon made the two-man rotation as freshmen.

Henry gained 12,124 career rushing yards at Yulee (Fla.) High, which broke a 59-year-old national record. He ran the ball a lot, especially as a senior when he averaged almost 36 carries a game.

At 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds, Henry is built like a future linebacker, defensive end or H-back, but he has emphasized he came to Alabama to play running back. Saban will give him a chance.

Sophomore Dee Hart and junior Jalston Fowler suffered knee injuries this past season, and it’s uncertain how effective they’ll be when they return. If Fowler is fine, he will make an excellent H-back, where Alabama needs someone.

Last year’s starter at H-back, Kelly Johnson, has completed his eligibility. Hart proved himself as a special teams ace before getting hurt.

Drake showed potential as a runner in mop-up work and seems the best bet to challenge Henry for that spot in the playing rotation.

At receiver, Alabama began the year short-handed, and it steadily got worse as the season went along.

Kenny Bell (broken leg), Kevin Norwood (turf toe), Chris Black (shoulder) and DeAndrew White (knee) missed time because of injury.

Even leading receiver Amari Cooper, a freshman, dealt with nagging injuries. He still shined. In the past 40 years, only three other freshmen have done that — Ozzie Newsome in 1974, David Palmer in 1991 and Julio Jones in 2008.

However, had Black not gotten hurt in August, he might’ve challenged Cooper for receiving honors. Going into preseason practice, Alabama’s coaches liked him as much as they did Cooper.

Everybody from last year is eligible to return, and with freshman stars Falkins and Foster arriving on campus, the Tide should have plenty of depth. Both of the first-year players appear talented enough to play immediately.

Because of that, Shinn appears ready to transfer. With the injuries last year, by the time Alabama reached the BCS National Championship Game, Shinn had moved into the Tide’s four-receiver rotation.

Now, there really isn’t a spot for him.

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter @MarkSportsStar.

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