Jase McClellan was a surprise addition to Alabama’s 2020 recruiting class. The former top-50 prospect made the flip from Oklahoma to the Crimson Tide on Early National Signing Day, which gave Alabama the top running back group for the cycle.
Once the Aledo, Tex. native arrived in Tuscaloosa, he wasn’t just battling the two other running back signees, Roydell Williams and Kyle Edwards, for snaps behind star Najee Harris. Brian Robinson Jr. and Trey Sanders were both on the depth chart as well, so you know he had to earn all 24 of his touches.
McClellan’s 245 rushing yards and two scores both finished third on the team, and now with Harris drafted to the Pittsburgh Steelers, he’s looking to make a second-year leap. He’s still got plenty of competition, especially with five-star Camar Wheaton expected to enroll this summer. But McClellan has at least one believer: former Auburn running back Brad Lester.
This is now the second offseason that Lester has worked with McClellan. The fit might seem odd considering where both players land on Iron Bowl weekend, but they make it work. As McClellan attempts to make his move up the depth chart permanent, Lester is keeping him grounded.
“I told him the biggest focus is just getting in the rotation,” Lester said, via BamaOnline. “If you take the premier spot, that’s a plus, but the biggest thing is just getting in the rotation and what you do when you get the ball — making plays, keep errors to a minimum, get better in pass protection.”
Sound advice, right?
Robinson is the clear-cut favorite to be the starter. He’s a talented power back with some receiving chops, and his seniority and experience advantages are tough to ignore. Still, McClellan — or one of these other running backs — will have opportunities to earn touches. In fact, we could even see a 40-40-20 type of split with McClellan manning one of those top roles.
Lester believes there are steps to that process.
“What I’ve told him, and this is on the minimum level, my expectation is for him to start off being in the rotation and then at some point take over the backfield,” Lester continued. “That would be my goal for him, and to put up numbers. I said, ‘Go catch your big brother (Najee). It probably won’t happen this year, but over the next couple years, go break his records.’
“He really wants to get on the field this year. He didn’t really have much time to get ready last year, and obviously, with what they had last year, it was gonna be tough. So that’s the biggest thing, he’s hungry. He’s coming in right now, he’s working hard, zero complaints. He’s a ‘yes sir, no sir’ guy. That just says a lot about his upbringing and also about the way Coach (Nick) Saban coaches these guys up. He’s always done an amazing job with picking good players that are just not good on the field but have good personalities and good off the field as well.
“For him to be here and to be working for the next couple weeks shows how dedicated he is.”
Either way, the Alabama backfield will have big shoes to fill. Harris has been spectacular for the Crimson Tide over the last two years, which is why he was the Doak Walker Award winner and first-round pick back in April.
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.