TUSCALOOSA — Trey Sanders’ role in Alabama’s 2020 backfield may have been insignificant in terms of impacting winning, but it was not statistically insignificant: his 30 carries are fifth among freshman running backs in the SEC.
With Sanders likely out for the rest of the season after injuries suffered in a car accident, another freshman will be forced to step into his place. It could be Roydell Williams, the four-star prospect out of Hueytown, a top 10 running back in the class of 2020.
It could also be Jase McClellan, another top 10 running back in 2020 who has impressed his teammates with each passing practice.
If Alabama is in a situation where a third running back is needed, Williams and McClellan are the top choices. If it is McClellan, it will be the culmination of a freshman season that has been one of significant development for him, even if that development has yet to manifest in an in-game carry.
“I think Jase is a guy who’s really stepped up as of late,” tight end Miller Forristall said. “It’s a year where guys can go up and down, in and out not only with injuries but with COVID now, so guys have gotten a lot more reps. I think Jase has done a great job of stepping into that role. He runs really, really hard, that’s the first thing that jumps off when you watch Jase play, he runs hard. And he does a great job of finishing, even in practice, and that’s going to pay off in games when he starts to get more and more carries.”
That comes as no surprise to McClellan’s coach at Aledo (Texas) High School, Tim Buchanan. Over his high school career, McClellan developed as a cutter and pass catcher, but Buchanan said, “where he really stands out is when he lowers his shoulder and decides to gain yards after contact.”
Later in his high school career, McClellan started developing as a pass catcher in a way that resembles Najee Harris, Alabama’s current starter and record holder for single-season receiving touchdowns by a running back. It got to the point that McClellan was useful as a decoy, opening things up for wide receivers Money Parks (current Utah receiver) and JoJo Earle (LSU commit) on the way to a state championship last year.
If McClellan is able to convert that development into in-game carries, it will likely be at the end of games Alabama has well in hand. All of Sanders’ 30 carries came in games the Tide won by at least 19 points.
Sanders did get some early carries against Mississippi State, in the second quarter, when Brian Robinson Jr. exited the game with a minor injury. Since UA has had two off weeks — one by design and one due to COVID-19 issues at LSU — that gave Robinson time to heal, McClellan or Williams will likely get their opportunities in garbage time, if any at all.
The garbage time reps may be all McClellan needs to impress the masses.
“He’s looked good since day one, like he’s been here for a while,” nose guard D.J. Dale said. “He looks just like the old guys, and they’ve been doing a good job of coaching him up.”