Fowler's absence hurts Bama all around

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Jalston Fowler, who will likely miss the rest of the season recovering from knee surgery, wasn't the leading rusher, the leading blocker or the leading receiver for the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide. His name didn't appear first on any depth chart. In fact, he shared the distinction of being the No. 2 tailback with true freshman T.J. Yeldon.

But what Fowler lacked for in distinction on paper he made up for in usefulness on the field. His unique skill set -- a power runner with light feet and soft hands -- was put to use by the Alabama coaching staff. He was second on the team in yards rushing, but he was also a reason why the Alabama rushing game has been so effective this season in his role as a lead blocker at H-back.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said replacing Fowler's production will be a team effort. His loss at tailback hurts when considering starter Eddie Lacy's health concerns. He missed all of spring practice recovering from surgery to fix his battle with turf toe, only to sprain his ankle late in fall camp. He's been limited thus far, carrying the ball less than 10 times in each of the first two games.

The good news is Yeldon has emerged so quickly. The rookie was the first freshman in school history to rush for 100 yards in his debut. He followed up that performance by leading the team in receptions against Western Kentucky on Saturday. He and fellow freshmen Dee Hart and Kenyan Drake will take on more responsibility in Fowler's absence.

"I think we have what we have," Saban said. "We have backups at every one of the positions and roles that he filled. There may not be one particular guy. I think on special teams, there's a different guy on each special team that would take his place now. At running back, Dee Hart, Kenyan Drake will have a little more opportunity. Kelly [Johnson] was his backup at fullback, which is where he plays anyway. So we are going to miss him. It's going to take a number of people to replace him in various roles that he played on our team."

Junior receiver Kevin Norwood, who caught two touchdowns against Western Kentucky, said there's not much the team can do now other than move on.

"We're all going to pray for Jalston that hopefully he'll get back our there soon," Norwood said. "But the only thing we really can do is move on and make sure everybody is focused and preparing right for this team."

Guard Chance Warmack said he hasn't spoken to Fowler since the injury and hopes his recovery will happen swiftly. In the meantime, he said Alabama's lost a weapon on offense.

"Phenomenal player," Warmack explained. "Brought a lot to the offense. I don't want to count him out just yet. I don't know the specifics about how the injury is. Great guy, brought a lot to the offense. Very powerful back."

Fowler was one of three tailbacks in the SEC to average better than 6.9 yards per carry in 2011-12. He ran for 395 yards and four touchdowns on 56 carries.

Linebacker Nico Johnson went up against Fowler every day in practice. The 6-foot-1, 242-pound wrecking ball at tailback was routinely considered the most difficult man to bring down with the ball in his hands.

"He's more like a back like Trent (Richardson)," Johnson said. "He can run, catch out of the backfield, and he's tough to tackle. So, it's going to be real tough, but we've got enough guys and depth for somebody to step in and fill his role."