Lacy puts button on return

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- The spin move was back, if only for one play, if only for one game.

Eddie Lacy, the Alabama Crimson Tide's whirlwind tailback, conjured images of the runner he was a season ago, swirling and bursting past Western Kentucky defenders Saturday afternoon. His patented spin move -- the one that earned him the nickname "Circle Button" from video games -- returned, if only for one snap.

In the first half, Lacy became entangled with a defender, spun his hips around to try to break free, but fell forward for the first down instead. The move, for a man who battled turf toe through last season and a sprained ankle for the last three weeks, was a sign that getting back to 100 percent might not be as far off as some might believe.

For weeks, Lacy was forced to stand aside and watch while T.J. Yeldon stole the show.

Against Michigan in the season opener, Yeldon, a true freshman running back, became the first rookie to debut with more than 100 rushing yards. Meanwhile, Lacy had just nine carries for 39 yards -- a far cry from what it would take to earn the role of feature tailback and break free of Trent Richardson's shadow. Week 2 wasn't much better against WKU, with Lacy averaging 4 yards per carry on nine attempts; meanwhile, Yeldon showed his dynamism, coming in second on the team in all-purpose yards and first in receptions.

"The first two games, I couldn't really play the way I wanted to," Lacy said after Saturday's 52-0 win over Arkansas. "It's kind of frustrating but my teammates kept me up. I kept doing my rehab."

Slowly, Lacy is creeping closer to being fully healthy, something he concedes he still hasn't achieved, even after rushing for 55 yards and three touchdowns against Arkansas in the Crimson Tide's SEC opener.

"[I'm] a lot healthier than the last two weeks," he said with a laugh.

Center Barrett Jones said he has been waiting to hear the familiar rhythm of Lacy's footsteps for weeks. What he heard against Arkansas was the explosiveness to which he'd become accustomed since Lacy arrived on campus in 2009, signing with Alabama over his home-state LSU Tigers.

"I hugged him after that touchdown right after halftime," Jones said. "I kind of felt like he's back. We kind of saw that old Eddie.

"I think he's starting to trust his legs again. I'm really pleased with what I saw."

Jones said he thought Lacy was beginning to get down about not being healthy before breaking out against Arkansas.

"He's just tired of being hurt," he said. "I think he's finally getting healthy. We know he's a great running back when he's healthy."

Now that Lacy's back, the Alabama backfield gains depth and balance. And the value of a lead dog is clear, especially when those following him are rookies.

Combined with Yeldon and freshmen Dee Hart and Kenyan Drake, Alabama put up 225 yards rushing against Arkansas. All four have different styles, and all four have proven to be impact players with the ball in their hands. Drake, who had just two carries through the first two games, ended up leading the team in rushing with 57 yards and a touchdown on six carries.

Coach Nick Saban said he liked what he saw from the group as a whole.

"The runners did a really good job of running," Saban said. "Eddie really ran it well, so did all of them."

What caught Saban's eye was the physical play of the offense -- the line and the running backs.

Yeldon is no slouch at punishing defenders, but no one in the backfield brings the same combination of athleticism and strength as the 6-foot, 220-pound junior from Louisiana. When he's healthy, there's no bringing him down.

"We ran physical, we broke tackles," Lacy said. "We made them feel us. When they hit us they felt us coming. They couldn't keep hitting us the whole game."

The Arkansas defense was the first to see Lacy return to form.

Now, it's time for the rest of the SEC to remember what a spin move looks like.