Heading into the 2015 football season, the Alabama Crimson Tide had to reinvent itself thanks to the graduation of Blake Sims and the early departure of Amari Cooper to the NFL. The Tide would have to go back to its roots and pound the ball to win games. The one stopping point for this plan was the lack of a power back. Derrick Henry made hay as a zone running, one-cut back during his first two years at the Capstone. That style is not particularly physical, though it certainly is effective. Based on the Wisconsin game, though, Henry added power elements to his game, and in the process became a complete running back.
What does a power running back look like?
He generally runs through multiple tackles, falls forward, and delivers physical blows to defenders on running plays. That type of pounding wears a defense down. Additionally, Alabama tweaked blocking schemes to rely on more power sets against Wisconsin. The combination of a suddenly powerful Henry and a mauling offensive line paid dividends for the Tide en route to their 35-17 win in Arlington, Texas.
A couple of plays highlight Henry’s power. On this fourth-and-one play, Henry ends up running for the Tide’s first touchdown against the Badgers. The play is scary to behold for a multitude of reasons.
First, Henry’s power blows through an arm tackle near the line of scrimmage. Once Henry is through the initial traffic, he then uses his long legs to accelerate through and away from would-be Wisconsin tacklers. Henry always had speed in the open field thanks to his long strides, but the added power where he keeps his legs churning through contact means he will have more opportunities to tear off big plays.
Henry’s power set Alabama up for another touchdown in the play below. This run features Henry powering through multiple tackles to get near the goal line and secure a first down. Even as he takes the hit that eventually results in the tackle, Henry is falling forward and delivering punishment that Alabama fans haven’t seen on a consistent basis from the young man from Yulee, Florida.
A complete running back isn’t complete without being able to block. Henry’s size made him an excellent blocker already, but everything has clicked for the young man on this front as well. Consider this scramble from Jacob Coker in the second quarter against the Badgers. Wisconsin’s TJ Edwards blitzes and is left unblocked by the offensive line. Henry sees Edwards coming and completely shuts down the rush from the Wisconsin inside linebacker.
What does that mean? The Tide’s new quarterback will generally have more time in the pocket on passing plays and that opens up more vertical throws. While Coker did not complete any of his deep shots against Wisconsin, they were catchable with the exception of one bad under throw.
All of these ingredients make Henry a complete running back. It is too early to say that he will break records this season, but given how he’s added to his game in 2015, that conversation may be on the horizon.