Alabama running back Najee Harris anticipates larger workload after staying patient

Alabama junior running back Najee Harris has rushed for 1,153 yards and 6.5 yards per carry through his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa.
photo Alabama junior running back Najee Harris has rushed for 1,153 yards and 6.5 yards per carry through his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa.

Najee Harris averaged more than 20 carries a game in each of his final three seasons at Antioch High School in California.

The rushes have not been nearly as plentiful in college.

Through his first two seasons at Alabama, the former five-star talent has yet to earn a start and has averaged slightly more than six carries a game. The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder has made the most of his limited opportunities, however, averaging a robust 6.5 yards per carry.

"As a running back, you always want the ball, but it is a business," Harris said this week in a news conference. "In the NFL, you're not going to want anyone who has that many carries. I just had to learn the business aspect of it."

Harris was the third-string tailback each of the past two seasons, backing up Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs, but that duo is now in the NFL. As the Crimson Tide continue to near their Aug. 31 opener against Duke inside Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Harris has ascended to the top of the depth chart but doesn't know how much demand will be placed on him.

That could be up to fellow junior Brian Robinson, who is expected to be the primary backup. Five-star freshman Trey Sanders was expected to share some of the load before incurring what could be a season-ending foot injury, while redshirt freshman Jerome Ford and true freshman Keilan Robinson hope to be more than just mop-up performers.

No matter how the order shakes out, Harris does not want to be viewed as the leader of the position.

"We should feel ownership as a group," he said. "It's not just one person. Everybody should keep in mind that it could be his time and that he needs to be ready."

Harris was the nation's top overall prospect in the 2017 signing class, according to both and As an Antioch senior in 2016, he rushed 291 times for 2,776 yards (9.5 per carry) and 34 touchdowns to earn USA Today All-America status for a second straight season.

His college debut consisted of only three carries for 5 yards in a 24-7 win over Florida State at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but that season ended in the same venue and had a much more dazzling finish. In Alabama's 26-23 overtime triumph over Georgia in the national championship game, Harris was the Tide's leading rusher with 65 yards on only six carries, including a career-long run of 35 yards.

Harris rushed 61 times for 370 yards (6.1) as a freshman and had 117 carries for 783 yards (6.7) last season. The two biggest lessons he has learned to this point are staying patient and the importance of picking up the blitz.

"In high school, you're just playing," he said. "There are no blitz pickups."

Tide tidbits

Alabama held its 12th preseason practice Thursday, working out for two hours in full pads. ... Tide coach Nick Saban said after practice that Florida State graduate transfer Landon Dickerson has worked at center and guard, which included the role of first-team center during the portion of practice open to the media. Alabama's first-team defensive line Thursday contained Raekwon Davis, Justin Eboigbe and Phidarian Mathis, though D.J. Dale and LaBryan Ray have missed several practices due to injuries and expect to push for starting roles as well. ... Saban said the team's second scrimmage of the preseason on Saturday would be more "game-like" compared to last weekend.

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.