Derrick Henry’s high school team had a simple strategy: Toss him the ball out of the backfield. That worked well for Yulee (Fla.) High School, but it did not provide Henry with a well-rounded skill set when he stepped foot on Alabama’s campus in 2013.
With little to no experience blocking or catching, Henry faced a steep uphill climb under the watch of Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban.
“One day he told me, ‘Coach, all they ever did was just toss me the ball, and I ran with it. So all this other stuff that I need to learn about playing running back — like pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield and all those kind of things — I really need to learn,’” Saban told the media during Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. “And I think those are the areas that he’s really improved on dramatically.”
After a dominant performance on Saturday against Wisconsin — 159 total yards on 15 touches — Henry received plenty of praise from his coach.
“He’s got great size and speed,” Saban said. “He’s one of the hardest-working, best-attitude guys on our team, and he’s improved dramatically in a lot of areas.
“He can really be a workhorse for us. We’re just hopeful that he can stay healthy and continue to improve.”
Henry was not the featured back last season, but he broke the century mark three times, including a 141-yard performance against Missouri in the SEC Championship. He added a combined 149 yards and two touchdowns on 15 touches against Ohio State in the national semifinal.
Saban addressed several other topics on Wednesday. Here are some of his thoughts:
On a record 10 SEC teams being ranked: “I didn’t even look at the polls. It doesn’t surprise me.”
On the team’s leadership: “Everybody’s kind of bought in and trying to do things the right way … It’s been beneficial.”
On the team’s deep passing struggles: “I don’t really think they’re struggles … I’m very, very confident we’ll make some of those plays.”