TUSCALOOSA | For most college football programs, removing an NFL-ready Heisman Trophy finalist like Trent Richardson from the depth chart would take a lot of the crowding out of the offensive backfield.
Not so at Alabama.
As the Crimson Tide approaches the 2012 season, the adage "there are only so many footballs to go around" rings true when it comes to the running back position. Junior Eddie Lacy, now largely recovered from the toe injury that cost him playing time last season and all of spring drills, is anxious to take his place as the Crimson Tide's lead back.
"Eddie looks great. He looks light on his feet," quarterback AJ McCarron said. "He's making good cuts, catching the ball extremely well. I'm happy for him and I'm proud of him right now."
As a precautionary measure, Lacy's participation in UA's first fall scrimmage was limited, but he was effective in picking up 57 yards on eight carries.
It's behind Lacy where the mystery comes in.
Jalston Fowler was Alabama's third-leading rusher last season and could be Lacy's primary backup, but he also has seen some preseason practice time at the H-back position and may find his way onto the field in that capacity. Could freshman T.J. Yeldon make an impact? The Daphne native was the most valuable player of the A-Day game in April and has been identified by coach Nick Saban as a potential contributor this fall.
Then there is Dee Hart, the small-but-explosive freshman who redshirted last season while recovering from a knee injury, and another incoming freshman in Kenyan Drake.
"It's never pressure bet ween us. We always compete, but it's always friendly competition," Lacy said of the running back corps. "We help each other out. We give each other pointers. So even though we're going against each other, at the same time we're pushing each other."
Lacy picked up 674 yards last season despite being limited by a turf toe injury. He and Fowler combined delivered 1,059 yards in 2011, Fowler mostly in a fourth-quarter role.
At nearly 250 pounds, Fowler is the biggest of the group and brings a power-running style to the backfield, while Dee Hart, at 198 pounds, is likely to avoid more tackles than he breaks.
Saban said there are a number of factors the UA coaching staff looks for in a running back.
"One of the things we always look for in backs is not only do they have a change of direction, can they run with some power, can run behind their pads, difficult-to-tackle type guys," Saban said. "You can only be a complete player as a running back if you can be an effective receiver as well, and we've been fortunate here that just about every guy we've had play the position is a very good receiver."