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March 1, 2012

Spring preview: Running backs

Tidesports.com's annual preview of spring practice at the University of Alabama begins with a look at the running back position. This is the first of an eight-part series previewing one position each day until spring drills commence on March 9.

Moving on
Trent Richardson departed UA a year early for the NFL Draft as one of the most prolific rushers in school history, the second consecutive year Alabama has lost its top rusher to early NFL Draft eligibility. Expected to be a first-round draft choice, Richardson leaves as big a void as the one Mark Ingram left a year earlier.

Moving forward
Eddie Lacy opens spring practice as the Crimson Tide's most experienced rusher, having been effective as Richardson's backup in 2011. It remains to be seen whether Lacy will be able to fully participate in spring drills after a toe injury slowed him for most of the 2011 season. Lacy ran for 671 yards on 95 carries last year, a 7.1 average that was tops among Southeastern Conference backs with 20 or more carries. That leaves little doubt he has the talent to command a starting role in the SEC.

Moving up
Spring practice should provide a strong opportunity for practice reps among UA's reserves, particularly if Lacy is limited. Jalston Fowler was effective for UA as a No.3 back a season ago. He picked up 385 yards for the season, but most of that came against defenses that had been worn down late in games. Other returning players involved in the competition include third-year sophomore Blake Sims and redshirt freshmen Dee Hart and Brent Calloway. Hart said in January that he expects to be fully ready for spring drills after spending the fall rehabilitating from a knee injury.

Moving day
Newcomer T.J. Yeldon is one of eight early enrollers participating in spring practice. The true freshman was a standout rusher at Daphne High and joins a competition that, for the most part, is inexperienced. Yeldon's athleticism could also help him contribute on special teams in the spring as well.

Position overview
Lacy's best opportunity to establish himself as the program's lead back is upon him, and there is no reason to believe he can't do so once he is fully healed. Alabama has an assortment of running styles in this group, from the bullish, 250-pound Fowler to the smaller, quicker Hart. A mix like that could lend itself to a variety of roles.

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