Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr. focusing on running harder, smarter
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Brian Robinson Jr. has been getting the job done the hard way this season. Through five games, the Alabama back has picked up 135 of his 198 rushing yards after contact. That’s including every one of his season-high 60 rushing yards against Ole Miss last week.
“Obviously I have to create yards after contact, not let the first guy bring me down and just fighting for extra yards,” Robinson said. “So that's a part of my game that I pretty much been had. I’m just starting to be able to produce."
While the 6-foot-1, 226-pound back is best known for his ability to break tackles, he’s looking to show there's more to his game than just bowling over defenders. That’s been the focus this week as the junior has worked on fine-tuning his running approach by improving his second-level reads.
“Just once I break the line of scrimmage on the linebacker side or getting into the safeties and cornerbacks and just having a plan on making those guys miss so that we can break bigger runs,” Robinson said.
After a slow start, Robinson has begun to flash his big-play ability. According to Pro Football Focus, he avoided seven tackles after a rush against Ole Miss. He had just two avoided tackles in his previous four games. As Robinson said, that resulted in much bigger runs.
Last week, the powerful back had three carries of 10 yards or more, including his first two touches of the game which went for 12 yards and 10 yards respectively. Six of Robinson’s 10 carries last week went for 5 or more yards, while four resulted in first downs.
There’s been a lot said about Alabama’s running game which ranks No. 56 in the nation averaging 174 yards per game. Although, things aren’t necessarily as bad as they might seem. The Crimson Tide is tied for No. 25 in the nation, averaging 5.3 yards per carry but is tied for No. 102 in attempts per game with 32.8.
A big reason for the lack of carries has been Alabama’s use of RPOs which have generally resulted in quarterback Tua Tagovailoa yanking the ball away from his backs in favor of hitting an open receiver downfield. It’s been hard to argue with the success of such plays considering Alabama is third in the nation averaging 380.6 yards per game through the air.
Still, Alabama’s quick-strike passing attack has come at the expense of its defense. Excluding a kneel down to end the game, the Crimson Tide averaged 2:28 on its 12 offensive drives against Ole Miss last week. Only one of those drives took more than five minutes off the clock.
That contributed to Alabama’s defense taking the field for a season-high 88 snaps which then resulted in the Crimson Tide surrendering a season-high 31 points and 476 total yards.
Despite the tax Alabama’s fast-paced offense puts on its defense, head coach Nick Saban said he has know plans of making drastic changes, stating he will continue to play to his team’s strengths moving forward.
“Do we want to have time of possession in the game? Do we want to control the line of scrimmage and be able to make explosive plays and do all that stuff on offense? I think, yes we do,” he said. "But I don’t think we’re going to change how we approach, how we play offense and featuring the players that we have on offense because of some other part of our team."
Of course, if Alabama could develop its running game into more of a strength, it could help solve some of its issues. Robinson believes that begins with taking advantage of opportunities during early downs.
“We have to keep the running game balanced,” he said. “We have to be efficient on first and second downs; always get positive yards, at least half on first and 10 and then try to get half if not four to five (yards on second down). Keep the running game balanced. We have a lot of playmakers on offense. On the opportunities we get, we have to make the most of it.”
To be fair, Alabama’s backs were pretty successful on early runs last week, averaging 7.6 yards per carry on first down and 6.2 yards per carry on second down. Although, Robinson said there’s still plenty of room for the unit to improve going forward.
"The off week probably couldn't have come at a better time,” he said. Really just for me (it's about) recovering, getting my legs back under me and just still trying to work on my game, and fix all the little details in my game that I need to be able to (take) into next week versus Texas A&M. So I'm pretty much just focused on the game next week and preparing for the game next week now."
Alabama will have one final open-week practice Friday before fully shifting its attention to its trip to Texas A&M on Oct. 12.