Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram.

Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.

Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy.

Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.

T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry.

Derrick Henry and … Derrick Henry?

For one of the first times in the Nick Saban era, Alabama could break from the buddy system at running back this season.

The “No. 2” guy as a sophomore, Henry surpassed a less-than-100-percent Yeldon late in the season and finished 2014 with 990 rushing yards. Now he’s got a chance to challenge for the SEC rushing title thanks in part to what should be an increased workload.

Here’s a quick rundown of the Tide’s other bodies in the backfield: Yeldon and Jalston Fowler? Entering the NFL draft. Bo Scarbrough? Tore his ACL. Tyren Jones? Off the team due to disciplinary issues and an arrest for marijuana possession. Altee Tenpenny? Transferred. Damien Harris? Not on campus until the summer. DeSherrius Flowers? A true freshman who just arrived in Tuscaloosa.

I ranked Henry as the No. 2 returning running back in the SEC this season, and everything this spring has backed that theory.

  1. He’s added four pounds to an already-heavy frame, now measuring 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds, apparently without losing any speed.
  2. Alabama lost its top three receivers from the 2014 season as well as its starting quarterback, and there’s uncertainty at both positions.
  3. Saban isn’t one to blow smoke where the sun isn’t, but he’s praised Henry’s work ethic and leadership effusively on more than one occasion this spring.
  4. Kenyan Drake’s recovery has been outstanding, even though he’s still less than 100 percent. But the word out of Tuscaloosa is that coordinator Lane Kiffin wants to use him in a Reggie Bush type role, which we saw some last season when he caught five passes for 159 yards before the horrible leg injury.
  5. Alabama’s offense set a single-season school record for total plays (1,018) and finished second in points (517). Henry now is the clear No. 1 player within Kiffin’s system. He should have plenty of opportunities.

I expect the Tide will spell Henry when he needs with some combination of Drake, Flowers and Harris. But we may see a departure from the team’s traditional second banana, as none of those players fits the mold, at least not this season.

Henry has the body to do it. He ran 462 times as a high school senior, more than double his total in two seasons at Alabama. His legs should be relatively fresh.

Henry’s favorite backs, Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson, are athletic, but don’t shy from contact. He’s worked hard to improve his pass protection and third-down ability, which NFL scouts will love. He told that he hopes “the old, traditional, pound-pound” Alabama running game re-emerges in 2015.

“In high school I carried the ball almost every play of the game,” Henry said, according to “I just think about running the ball and running down the field. I don’t really worry about the miles.”

Last year, Alabama’s offensive line didn’t create as many openings between the tackles as the unit did in recent seasons. More of the successful runs bounced to the outside. But Henry is built like an inside linebacker, and if the blocking can return to the nationally-elite standard the Tide is accustomed to seeing, No. 27 could grind on defenses and wear them down in the second half.

At 5.8 yards per carry last season, if Henry retains that and gets, say, 250 rushes and a few receptions mixed in, he’ll generate more than 1,500 yards of offense.

If Henry leaves after 2015, Alabama could return to the buddy system in the backfield, but it may be his to run this fall.

“If everybody on the team would emulate him, we would have no problems at all,” Saban said, according to “He does care enough about the other guys to want to have an impact, to affect someone in a positive way. That’s half the battle, because some guys don’t want the responsibility.”