TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — By the time early enrollee Najee Harris hurdled his third teammate, it was obvious Alabama is in great shape at the running back position.
Harris and fellow early enrollee Brian Robinson received extended playing time Saturday during the Crimson Tide's first scrimmage due to injuries to Damien Harris (sprained foot), Bo Scarbrough (leg) Josh Jacobs (thigh bruise) and B.J. Emmons (foot).
For most teams, losing its top four backs would be crippling, even in a scrimmage. For Alabama, it gave the Tide a chance to showcase its depth.
“Big backs that know how to run, that know how to move,” Alabama receiver Cam Sims said of the Tide’s freshman duo. “It’s something I’ve never seen before. It’s like Derrick Henry.”
The comparisons to the former Alabama Heisman winner might be premature given that neither Najee Harris nor Robinson have seen the field for a real game at the college level. But, moments like Saturday let imaginations run wild.
“That was my first time seeing something like that in real life,” Sims said.
Stats were not provided from the scrimmage, but the general consensus was that Alabama head coach Nick Saban came away pleased by what he saw from the running back position.
“Najee played a lot. Brian Robinson played a lot,” Saban said. “Which is good for them... All those guys are guys that can make a contribution to our team, and we're looking for ways that we can use them.”
All six of Alabama’s running backs project to be ready in time for the Tide’s season opener against Florida State on Sept. 2. While Alabama will most likely use multiple backs this season, it might be difficult to find playing time for each playmaker.
One option would be to involve the running backs in the passing game. Newly hired offensive coordinator Brian Daboll comes to the Tide after serving the past four seasons with the New England Patriots, a team that often utilizes its running backs through the air.
Last season, Patriots running back James White was third among NFL running backs in receiving with 60 catches for 551 yards and five touchdowns. According to STATS LLC, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw to his running backs 24.4 percent of the time.
While it’s unknown whether or not Daboll will employ the same attack at Alabama, it is worth noting that Saban said the Tide’s backs “had quite a few catches” during Saturday’s scrimmage.
If Alabama does decide to use the running backs in the passing game it won’t have any complaints from its receivers.
“It’s a team sport,” Sims said. “So, everybody is going to have their night. So, running backs have their night, we celebrate, and when we have our night, we celebrate.”
Whatever Alabama decides to do with its backs, Saturday’s performance proves the Tide will enter the season with far more depth than it had last year. That’s something Alabama will gladly deal with in the future.
“We do have a lot of good running backs,” Saban said earlier this spring. “We went from not having very many to having a whole bunch. I think they’ve all done really, really well... We certainly could use the experience. I think it’s a good problem to have.”