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Alabama RB Derrick Henry Poised For More

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Derrick Henry could go from Alabama's third-string running back to a national star this season, and coach Nick Saban has offered him a lot of praise this spring. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.
Derrick Henry could go from Alabama's third-string running back to a national star this season, and coach Nick Saban has offered him a lot of praise this spring. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

Alabama running back Derrick Henry entered his freshman season as a 6-foot-3, 242-pound, five-star running back capable of challenging for playing time despite one of the most lucrative talent pools at a position in all of college football.

Still, it was a major adjustment converting from competition in Yulee, Fla., to face teams like Auburn and LSU. Things like blitz pickups and the speed of the game took adjustments.

Henry almost singlehandedly gave Alabama fans something to smile about in an ugly Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, scoring a couple of touchdowns, but mostly was relegated to mop-up duty by T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake, both of whom return to Alabama in 2014.

For now, Yeldon's role is safe, although it appears Henry has left behind Drake on the depth chart entering his sophomore season.

"Derrick Henry has had a fabulous spring. He picked up right where he left off at bowl practice last year," Alabama coach Nick Saban told AL.com. "He works really hard. He runs really hard. He plays with a lot of toughness. He gets it. Very conscientious guy.

"He sets a great example. Physical in the way he plays. Very conscientious and pays attention to detail."

Any time Saban refers to the progress of an underclassman in such glowing terms — which is rare — it's worth taking note.

According to the sportsbook Bovada, Henry — again, a third-string running back in 2013 on a team that returns the other two players — has the fifth-best Heisman odds among SEC players at 28/1, behind Georgia RB Todd Gurley (12/1), Yeldon (14/1), South Carolina RB Mike Davis (18/1) and Auburn QB Nick Marshall (25/1).

Yeldon, Henry and Drake all have been catching the ball out of the backfield more frequently under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, according to reports. Henry's physical attributes give him the potential to be good in blitz pickups, and he averaged a whopping 10.6 yards per carry last season on 36 rushes.

"It humbled me," Henry told AL.com of his limited opportunities in the backfield one year after a record-breaking high school career. "Everything isn't just going to come to you. You have to work for it. You have to take time. This is college football so it's more technique. You have to put more effort into by watching film and really paying attention to the little things like coach (Burton) Burns and coach Saban preach.    "That's what I had to do to be able to get on the field and that's what I did."   Henry may do much more than get on the field this season and seems on track to become the next great Alabama running back.