You’ll forgive Alabama’s Derrick Henry if doesn’t get all that bothered about reports hyping Michigan State’s defense as being the toughest he’s seen this year.
That’s because the Heisman Trophy-winning running back goes up against a stiffer bunch every day.
Unstoppable force runs head-first into an immovable object on a regular basis in Tuscaloosa when coach Nick Saban’s team goes full-contact in practice on most Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“Those guys bring it every day,” Henry said recently. “There’s always intensity in practice.”
His bruising, powerful running style faces a take-no-prisoners defense that features a slew of future NFLers in the likes of inside linebacker Reggie Ragland, nose tackle A’Shawn Robinson and defensive end Jonathan Allen for starters.
Henry, who leads the nation in rushing with 1,986 yards and 23 touchdowns, laughed when asked who usually wins out.
“I’m gonna get mine,” he said with a smile.
Ragland, a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik awards that recognize the nation’s Best Defensive Player, said play becomes very physical when the Crimson Tide’s talent-laden first-team offense and defense square off in practice.
“If I’m lucky enough to get the chance to play in the NFL, it will be because I’ve been able to face guys like Derrick Henry in practice so much,” Ragland said. “He’s a load.”
Alabama, which will face the Spartans in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on New Year’s Eve, boasts the nation’s stingiest defense. The Crimson Tide pace the nation in rushing defense, surrendering an average of just 74 yards per game on the ground. They rank second in total defense (258.2 yards per game) and third nationally in scoring defense (14.4 ppg.).
Ragland said that the prospect of facing opposing runners doesn’t really awe him after going toe-to-toe with the 6-foot-3, 242-pound Henry as often as he does.
“I just know that I have to bring everything to the table,” Ragland said. “You have to bring it every day.”