Even with Lacy gone, Tide has plenty of fresh legs to fill in

Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon rolls into the end zone with the game-winning points against LSU. (AP photo by Gerald Herbert)

Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon rolls into the end zone with the game-winning points against LSU. (AP photo by Gerald Herbert)

TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — Alabama is losing an All-Southeastern Conference running back in Eddie Lacy, but the Crimson Tide won’t hurt for enough guys to carry the ball next year.

Lacy, who is bypassing his senior year to go to the NFL, said the Alabama running back situation might be even better next season, especially with someone like teammate T.J. Yeldon to help lead the way.

“However they decide to do it, I’m pretty sure they’ll be the same way T.J. and I were this year, if not better,” Lacy said.

Lacy (1,322 rushing yards this season) and Yeldon (1,108) shared the job during the 2012 national championship season, as Alabama coach Nick Saban prefers having two backs carry the load. Next year, Yeldon will be a sophomore. Kenyan Drake (281) will be a sophomore, and so will Dee Hart (88), who played only five games before injuring his knee.

Jalston Fowler is returning from a knee injury and is eligible for a medical redshirt for this past season after playing only two games and rushing for 85 yards. If he receives one, he will have two more years of eligibility remaining.

Derrick Henry (2) is headed to Alabama next season. (AP photo by Will Dickey of the Florida Times-Union)

Derrick Henry (2) is headed to Alabama next season. (AP photo by Will Dickey of the Florida Times-Union)

In addition, Alabama is set to bring in as many as three running backs in its 2013 recruiting class, including MaxPreps.com national player of the year Derrick Henry, who is from Yulee, Fla. Altee Tenpenny of North Little Rock, Ark., and Tyren Jones of Marietta, Ga., also have committed to Alabama.

No matter who rises to the top, they’ll share carries, because that’s how Saban has said he wants to do it.

“That’s one of the best ways as a running back to handle that position,” Lacy said. “Like I was saying plenty of times before, it helps you as far as recovery and lasting long during the season because you don’t take as many hits. Splitting carries is much better than being one back and taking all of those hits week in and week out.”

Lacy is following a strong recent line of running backs. Of Alabama’s previous six leading rushers, five have played in the NFL: Trent Richardson (leading rusher in 2011), Mark Ingram (2009-10), Glen Coffee (2008), Ken Darby (2004-06) and Shaud Williams (2002-03). Lacy could make it six of the past seven.

The only one who hasn’t played in the NFL is Terry Grant, who led the team in rushing in 2007, although he is playing in the Canadian Football League.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have some very, very talented players at that position,” Saban said. “They’ve been very productive, and I think they’ve been very productive because they’ve played with a lot of good players around them that have helped them productive. I think they would be the first guys to tell you that.”

And Saban wants the pipeline to stay in place, producing talent at the same rate.

“We want to continue to have those kind of players at that position in our program,” Saban said. “I think having a great runner and great quarterback is probably the ingredients that create a starting point that give you a tremendous chance to be successful offensively.”

As for Lacy, he said he doesn’t feel any pressure to follow what previous Alabama running backs have accomplished in the NFL, including former teammates Richardson and Ingram.

“I just know, like they did, I have to come out and do what I do to the best of my ability,” he said.

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