The Alabama Crimson Tide spring practice is going to have more than its fair share of eyeballs focused on what the defending national champions are doing. Folks will be watching everything from the position battles to trying to find a weakness on this championship team.
The player that will have the most to prove is 2013 recruit Derrick Henry. Easily one of the top recruits of the class, Henry enrolled early to get a jump start on the competition. We saw what stepping on campus sooner rather than later did for running back T.J. Yeldon last year, and Henry is hoping that it will have the same impact for him at the same position.
When looking at Henry, there is no question this kid has what it takes to succeed. His 6'3", 240-pound frame will allow him to see the field immediately. He can do just about anything with the ball in his hands, as he has the strength to run between the tackles, but also has the misleading speed to kick it to the outside and break off a big run.
"He's just a freak," said tight end Howard, a fellow early enrollee. “He's my roommate and he scares me sometimes just walking around.
"I think he's going to do some crazy things this year. He's a guy who works really hard. He gets up at night and does push-ups."
This is somebody who holds the all-time high school rushing record. He could easily take a backseat and act as if he knows it all, but he knows he can continue to improve and he wants to get even better. When you combine his attitude and love for the game with his skill set, there is no question this kid is going to succeed.
Concerns with Henry aren't about how successful he will be for the Crimson Tide; it is a matter of where and when. Quick question: how many running backs can you name that are walking around at 6'3"? When you add the fact that this kid is 240 pounds, he is a scary build that you just don't see at this position.
Sure, just because we don't see this every day doesn't mean Henry can't be this new breed of running back. After all, he has said numerous times that he wants to set the trend and be the one to open the door for backs his size. You are just left to wonder how effective his size will translate to the college level, and if his size will prevent him from being the next great Alabama runner.
Henry was able to bulldoze over smaller high school defenders and abuse kids due to his combination of size and speed. At the college level, he will be going up against guys who are just as athletic and big as he is in the SEC. With his tall frame, he is a wide body and easier target for defenders to bring down.
It won't be as difficult as trying to tackle Yeldon or Kenyan Drake—guys who can get low and make you miss in the open field.
Instead, due to all of the traits that make him a solid running back prospect, he could be a more effective tight end or linebacker if he was willing to switch sides of the ball. Henry is a physical player with great lateral quickness who could be that next great defensive player for the Tide if things don’t work out on offense.
Another thing that may not favor Henry is the amount of depth at the running back position already. While Nick Saban may not agree, Alabama is loaded in the backfield. With Yeldon expected to see increased carries, there is also Drake, Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler who are going to compete for touches. This doesn't even include other elite 2013 recruits in Altee Tenpenny and Tyren Jones, who will enroll later on in the year.
Henry is an interesting player with a ton of upside, and it is going to be fun to watch the journey and were it ends up taking him. However, due to more question marks than answers with his overall game and his position, he has the most to prove this spring.
We have seen many Alabama players in the past prove their worth in spring practice, and regardless of how Henry performs, it will tell us a lot about what his future with Alabama holds.