This is my story for today’s print editions:
TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — Crimson Tide running back Eddie Lacy has gained a whole new perspective on turf-toe injuries.
After recovering from one for about a year, he appreciates how good he feels these days. As second-ranked Alabama (11-1) prepares to face No. 3 Georgia (11-1) in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game, Lacy is healthy and running like it.
In the last four games, he has rushed for 405 yards, even though he splits carries with talented freshman T.J. Yeldon, never getting more than 19 carries in a game.
“I feel a lot better now than I did then,” Lacy said. “We just have to continue the process. But I feel a lot better.”
Lacy’s troubles go back to the fourth game of last season when Alabama beat Arkansas. That’s when he suffered his turf toe injury, which he said he wasn’t sure there was such a thing until he actually endured it.
Although he was able to play, it bothered him for the rest of the season. Typically, he struggled after his fourth or fifth carry of the game.
After off-season surgery, he missed spring practice. He also was limited at the start of August practice. On top of that, he sprained his knee in a preseason scrimmage, adding to his problems.
As a result, he averaged only 42 yards a game in the first three contests. Now, he’s running the way people remember. He said it helps that he doesn’t have to carry the load. Yeldon has carried the ball enough to gain 847 rushing yards.
Combine that with Lacy’s 1,001 yards, and they’re the second most productive running back tandem in the SEC.
Georgia’s Todd Gurley (1,138) and Keith Marshall (720) have combined for 1,858, which is 10 yards more. The most productive running tandem is Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (1,181) and running back Ben Malena (752), which has 1,933.
“Coach (Nick) Saban and the offensive coordinator (Doug Nussmeier) have been doing a great job with the rotation and I’m happy with the rotation,” Lacy said.
Saban said he prefers having two running backs rotate anyway, regardless of Lacy’s injuries. Rather than have a guy carry the ball 36 times a game and get hurt after six games, he would rather have him carry 18 times a game and be ready every day.
That’s made Yeldon’s development even more important. With Lacy needing time to recover from surgery, he carried a bit more of the load early. As Yeldon has dealt with the college workload and a recent sprained ankle, Lacy has taken the lead.
“T.J.’s a tough guy,” Saban said. “Hopefully, he’ll continue to get better and play well this week.”
Lacy said Yeldon is phenomenal.
“He’s putting in work like the rest of us,” Lacy said. “He’s holding up, his body’s great.”
For Lacy, having Yeldon means he doesn’t have to stress his repaired turf toe. Also, he said rotating with the freshman means he doesn’t get worn down as quickly.
“We wear the defense down and we rotate, so we don’t really get tired, then we come in late in games and continue to pick up where we left off,” he said. “It’s a great help for the offense.”