NEW ORLEANS—At first glance, Derrick Henry doesn’t look like a running back.
His 6’3”, 238-pound frame makes him look more like a linebacker or a tight end than someone who should consistently run with the ball in his hand.
“He’s basically my height, so I was like, ‘God, dog,’ because I’m used to these short running backs,” senior wide receiver Kevin Norwood said of his first time seeing Henry. “It was like, ‘Are you a receiver?’ Gonna take my position? ...
“Derrick Henry, he’s going to be a great running back for this program.”
While Henry has largely played long after games are out of hand this season, he could get to show his skills in more meaningful situations on Thursday in the Sugar Bowl.
Henry was one of the most highly touted prospects of Alabama’s 2013 signing class. 247Sports rated him the No. 12 overall player and top athlete in the country. At Yulee high school, in Yulee, Fla., he set national records for most rushing yards in a career (12,124) and most in a single game (510), according to his Alabama bio.
So it was easy to see why fans were so eager to witness the player they thought could be the next great Alabama running back.
Henry has been a regular on special teams but has carried the ball sparingly this year. He has carried the ball 28 times for 282 yards and two touchdowns in mop-up duty.
The highlight so far was an 80-yard touchdown run against Arkansas that capped the scoring in a 52-0 blowout.
Coaches have noticed Henry’s improvements over the season, and he could be a part of the regular rotation for Alabama’s running backs against Oklahoma. Henry has worked behind T.J. Yeldon and ahead of Kenyan Drake during bowl practices, according to AL.com’s Andrew Gribble.
“As with any young player, I think you teach them things, they get the base principles, and then they kind of go and they go and they go and you wait for them to make the next step,” Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “And I really believe over the last month, (Henry) has started to make that next step in his development.”
The first part of Alabama’s bowl practices were more “camp-like,” according to head coach Nick Saban. It lets the players get back to fundamentals and can be especially beneficial to young players caught up in the week-to-week scheming, rather than improving technique.
Henry has taken advantage of the time and finds himself in a position to succeed.
“During the beginning of the season, he wasn’t really sure what he was doing,” Yeldon said of Henry. “But since we had the break, he’s had a great understanding, just picking up the scheme with what we’re doing.”
Henry is next in line to be the premier Alabama running back. On Thursday, he will be able to get a head start.
“I think he’s going to become a great running back for this program,” Norwood said. “He’s kind of matured from where he started, he knows the offense better. He’s just a physical guy, big physical guy. He’s going to pound the ball inside, that’s what he does.”