No. 2 Alabama’s backfield dealt another injury blow

Alabama wasn’t trying to show off when the Crimson Tide started handing the ball to a moonlighting wide receiver and linebacker in a blowout win this past weekend.

The second-ranked Crimson Tide were running out of options.

Alabama had lost a third tailback to injury against New Mexico State when No. 2 rusher Roydell Williams went down on Saturday. Coach Nick Saban said Monday that Williams will require surgery on his right knee and that he will be out “for a while.”

When Alabama hosts No. 21 Arkansas Saturday the Crimson Tide will try to beat the Razorbacks with two scholarship tailbacks available, Brian Robinson Jr. and Trey Sanders. And Sanders, a five-star recruit, has been beset by an injury-plagued start to his career.

Saban said it would be hard to pivot offensive styles at this point even with the injuries.

“I don’t think you can change a lot,” he said. “We’ve worked a couple of other guys there for over a month now. Those guys are functional at the position. We’ll probably look for somebody else on our team that maybe we could develop into being a functional player from an emergency standpoint if we need them.

“But I don’t really think we can change right now. We certainly have to have a plan if we have any more issues at that position.”

If that happens, next up would be 175-pound wide receiver Christian Leary and 220-pound linebacker Demouy Kennedy. Both have been working in the backfield since Jace McCellan went down with a season-ending knee injury against Mississippi. Five-star freshman Camarr Wheaton hasn’t played this season with a meniscus injury.

“I know that’s not an easy task to come into the running back room but those guys kept their head up,” Robinson said. “I was just so happy to see those guys get an opportunity to play.”

Barring an injury to Robinson or Sanders, Leary and Kennedy aren’t likely to be pressed into action too much. But the two players, who have primarily played special teams, did get a few carries in the 59-3 win.

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Leary gained 22 yards on three carries. He ran for 520 yards and eight touchdowns as a high school senior.

“He is an athlete,” Alabama receiver John Meetchie III said. “Does it all. I mean, he can run. He’s kind of one of those special people in the offense that you put them wherever just to go make plays and be a playmaker.”

Kennedy ran seven times for 16 yards after scoring three touchdowns out of the Wildcat formation as a prep senior.

Robinson is the clear linchpin of the running game, especially since McClellan’s injury. The senior has run for 823 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Sanders has run for 195 yards and two TDs. He missed his freshman season with a foot injury and was a passenger in a serious car accident during the bye week as a redshirt freshman while home in Florida. That ended the 2020 season for Sanders.

“Now that he’s gonna have a more significant role, it’s time for him to take advantage of that opportunity,” Saban said. “But we have every confidence that he can do that very well for us.”

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