No one appears to be hitting the panic button, but No. 1 Alabama is down to only three scholarship tailbacks as sophomore backup Jase McClellan has been ruled out for the season after suffering a knee injury in the Tide’s 42-21 win over Ole Miss on Saturday.
McClellan, who is the Crimson Tide’s No. 2 rusher with 191 yards on 40 carries, will have surgery Tuesday.
“He’ll be out for the year,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday. The Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC) plays at Texas A&M (3-2, 0-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday on CBS. Alabama is a 17.5-point favorite by FanDuel.
A sophomore from Aledo, Texas, McClellan gained 28 yards on six carries and caught an 11-yard pass against Ole Miss. He was valuable catching passes this season as he had 10 receptions for 97 yards and three touchdowns. He also had four tackles on special teams and returned a blocked punt 33 yards for a touchdown against Mercer.
Saban also said that freshman reserve tailback Camar Wheaton, who has not carried this season, is questionable for Saturday’s game at Texas A&M (7 p.m., CBS) with a meniscus injury.
So that leaves the Tide with just three tailbacks, but all very talented and highly recruited – senior starter Brian Robinson Jr., who set three career marks against Ole Miss with 171 yards on 36 carries and four touchdowns, sophomore Roydell Williams, who has 154 yards on 24 carries, and sophomore Trey Sanders, who has 83 yards on 20 carries.
Sanders was a 5-star signee from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, in 2019 as the No. 1 tailback in the nation and No. 3 overall prospect in the country. Williams was a 4-star signee in 2020 as the No. 7 tailback in the nation from Hueyton, Alabama. Robinson was also a 4 star and the No. 7 tailback in the country in 2017 from Hillcrest High in Tuscaloosa.
“Five is a good number to have, and now we have three at the position,” Saban said. “You lose two or three guys at any position, and it challenges your depth. Hopefully, you don’t get snake-bit and lose a bunch of guys at one position, which really can have an impact on your team.”
McClellan was a 4-star signee from Aledo, Texas, in 2020 as the No. 6 tailback in the country. Wheaton was a 5-star signee in 2021 from Garland, Texas, as the No. 1 tailback in the nation and No. 29 overall prospect.
“Jase did a great job as a runner as well as a blocker and a very good special teams player,” Saban said. “We have to replace him in a lot of areas, but we do have confidence in Roydell. And I think he’ll do a good job. Trey Sanders is going to get more opportunity now, and he’s got to be able to step up and continue to make progress as well.”
Saban said he will take a look at moving players to tailback from other positions. One possible candidate is freshman wide receiver JoJo Earle, who was the No. 5 receiver and No. 48 prospect nationally in the class of 2021 and a teammate of McClellan’s at Aledo High. Another is junior wide receiver Slade Bolden, the No. 9 prospect in Louisiana in 2018 from West Monroe High.
Alabama would have two more scholarship tailbacks to choose from, but 4-star backs Keilan Robinson and Kyle Edwards entered the transfer portal over the summer. Robinson, who was the No. 5 all-purpose back in the nation in 2019 from Washington, D.C., transferred to Texas and has 175 yards on 23 carries this season.
“We’ll probably look at some of that (moving players to tailback), see how it works out,” Saban said. “If some guy has experience playing that position, we’ll see how they might be able to develop and be an emergency guy.”
The depth of talent appears voluminous still.
“We’ve got several in mind,” Saban said. “We’ll see how it goes.”