TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama's Derrick Henry and O.J. Howard both produced flashy moments as much-hyped freshmen.
Now, Howard says the two talk "all the time" about how much more they can accomplish next season.
Henry is a 6-foot-3, 238-pound tailback who turned the Crimson Tide's otherwise forgettable Sugar Bowl into a personal showcase that left fans salivating about his future. The 6-6, 242-pound Howard's eye-catching play came with a display of impressive speed for a tight end against LSU on a long touchdown.
"We always push each other," Howard said Wednesday night. "We both had our flashes, but this year we can become an all-around player at both our positions and be consistent with our play."
On an offense loaded with playmakers like tailback T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper, they're two of the more intriguing youngsters even if they probably won't be starters.
Henry had a breakout performance in a Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, running for a 43-yard touchdown and turning his first career catch into a 61-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. He's drawn rave reviews from Alabama coach Nick Saban all spring, and joins T.J. Yeldon in the Tide's latest talented tailback tandem.
"Derrick Henry has had a fabulous spring," Saban said. "He picked up right where he left off at bowl practice last year. He works really hard. He runs really hard. He plays with a lot of toughness. He gets it. Very conscientious guy. He sets a great example. "
Howard didn't have a game like that but outran much of LSU's defense for a 52-yard touchdown. He's still a work in progress in becoming the kind of physical, blocking tight end that Alabama has typically fielded like returning starter Brian Vogler.
"O.J. is a very talented guy," Saban said. "I think he needs to continue to improve in some of those areas because he's a great pass receiver, but we continue to work with him and try to improve him as a blocker and get him to pay attention to detail and the importance of that part of the game as well."
Henry used the bowl practices to climb over Kenyan Drake on the depth chart behind Yeldon, who has rushed for 1,000-plus yards in each of his first two seasons. The bruiser who was so big there was speculation that he might move to another position for Alabama also had an 80-yard touchdown against Arkansas. He gained 100 yards against the Sooners.
"During the Oklahoma game, I could tell that they didn't want to tackle me," Henry said.
That doesn't surprise teammate Reggie Ragland.
"He's 6-4, 240 and runs like a 5-10 guy," the 259-pound Tide linebacker said. "So he's a big guy. A lot of people are scared to tackle him."
Henry arrived after breaking Ken Hall's 51-year-old national high school rushing record with 12,124 yards. That included a whopping 4,261 yards as a senior.
Henry said he was "humbled" after arriving at Alabama and struggling to break into the rotation while trying to improve elements like blocking that weren't really a big part of his high school repertoire. He averaged 10.9 yards on 35 carries with three touchdowns.
Henry's recognized much more frequently around town post-Sugar Bowl.
"In high school, they have players that are good, but everyone isn't great like they are here," Henry said. "Everyone here was that guy at their school. During my first practice here, I was like 'Oh snap. Everybody's flying around.' It was kind of crazy. As you go on, you kind of get used to it and everything slows down. You start playing better."
Howard averaged 19.2 yards on 14 catches last season with a pair of touchdowns.
The one he hears most about is the LSU play, but he said he benefited from a misconception among LSU defenders, who were expecting him to lumber not full-out sprint.
"I think what happened was I caught the ball and I saw a seam and I was like, 'I'm running full-speed no matter what,'" Howard said. "And those guys didn't think I was going to be that fast because I was a tight end. They were like jogging and when they tried to speed up it was too late, so I kind of shocked them a little bit."
Now, Alabama fans are hoping for more such plays.