It’s been a while since there was sincere concern about the talent at running back for Alabama.
At the same time, it’s also rare to lose the top two options in the backfield in the same offseason. With Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs now chasing NFL dreams, the Crimson Tide will be without 51 percent of the rushing yardage gained in 2018.
There are two obvious fill-ins, a five-star freshman on the way and a receiver getting a shot at competing for a role. Nick Saban this week said redshirt sophomore Chadarius Townsend has been getting a look early in spring practice.
“And he’s actually showed some promise,” Saban said of the Tanner product.
Of course, the attention will be on former five-star Najee Harris and Brian Robinson, a Hillcrest High School graduate. Harris was technically the second leading rusher ahead of Jacobs with 783 yards on 117 carries as the bridge between the starters and reserves in blowout wins.
Developing the other responsibilities of Alabama running backs like pass protection has been the concern limiting some prime-time action for Najee Harris.
Robinson ran 63 times for 272 yards as the fourth option off the bench.
“Those guys have been great,” Saban said. “I mean they had good offseason programs. They’ve practiced really well. I think they’ve had enough playing experience that they understand what it takes to be successful in terms of their job and being responsible and accountable to get it done, whatever it is. Whether it’s pass-blocking during a passing play, running a route, catching the ball, being an effective runner.”
Jacobs, who left early for the NFL draft, has a scouting report for Alabama’s ground game next fall.
“The running backs we have back next year are definitely going to be tough,” Jacobs said. “Especially the two that I’ve seen. Najee and Brian. I think Brian is definitely going to have a breakout year.”
Robinson has been the under-the-radar guy since the recruiting days. He was the other back in the class with Najee Harris — the No. 2 overall prospect in the class. Robinson checked in at No. 145 or No. 8 among running backs.
He was a short-yardage player as a freshman before getting more looks as a sophomore. Jacobs didn’t hesitate backing up his praise of Robinson.
“I mean, he’s 230 running a 4.4,” Jacobs said. “I think he’s going to have a breakout year.”
Alabama also returns Jerome Ford who was able to retain a year of eligibility despite playing four games last year. He had seven carries for 37 yards in mop-up duty.
The X-factor doesn’t arrive until the summer.
Trey Sanders is the No. 6 overall recruit and top-ranked running back in the 2019 class coming out of IMG Academy in Florida. He famously said he planned to win a Heisman Trophy as a true freshman on signing day but will not have the benefit of spring practice as an early enrollee.