TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The first week of September cannot get here fast enough for Dont’a Hightower.
Alabama’s rising star at linebacker is tired of chasing down running backs that are his teammates. With as many as five backs competing for time, Hightower said each one brings a different style — only complicating the job of anyone trying to tackle them.
Sophomore Mark Ingram, the top returning running back from 2008 who ran 143 times for 728 yards, is the toughest to bring down, according to Hightower.
“Well, what I do, is jump on his back,” Hightower said with a laugh. “I can’t bend my knees low enough to hit him and he’s too strong to just bull over, so I just try to jump on his back at practice.”
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At 5-feet, 10-inches and 212 pounds, Ingram will be a leader along with senior Roy Upchurch and junior Terry Grant.
After failing to break big runs in last week’s scrimmage, the group will attack the defense in the second scrimmage at 2 p.m. today in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Ingram’s 17 carries for 55 yards and three touchdowns led the way in last week’s scrimmage, but coach Nick Saban cautioned about reading too much into the stats.
Regardless of stats, Upchurch has a warning for opposing defenses this fall.
“We’re a very dangerous group,” he said. “Watch out for us this year.”
Also known for running effectively between the tackles, Upchurch ran 58 times for 350 yards and four touchdowns in 2008 before missing the last four games with a neck injury. But, outside of a groin pull, he said he’s healthy.
Said Ingram: “Roy is better than his old self.”
On the other end of the spectrum is Grant.
With both Ingram and Upchurch missing spring practice with injuries, the junior took most of the carries with the first team. His 5-10, 190-pound frame makes him more of a water-bug with speed that made him the team’s leading rusher as a freshman in 2007 (180 carries for 891 yards).
“He’ll run by you in a blink,” Hightower said of Grant.
Then there is Trent Richardson. The freshman considered one of the best high school backs in the nation last fall has continued to impress.
Saban has said with sustained growth, the Pensacola, Fla., product “could make a contribution to the program this year.” The powerful runner, who once ran for 419 yards in a high school game, is built more in the mold of Ingram than Grant with measurements of 5-foot-11, 220 pounds.
Another highly recruited freshman, Eddie Lacy, has impressed this August and was the second-leading rusher in last week’s scrimmage with three rushes for 21 yards.
Although Saban said this year’s offense will not mirror last year’s exactly, controlling possession will surely be part of the game plan.
Notes: Alabama has expanded its roster. Between 25-30 players, mostly walk-ons, have joined the 105 players allowed to practice in the period before classes open. Freshman offensive lineman Kellen Williams, a scholarship player, was among the newcomers since he was not medically cleared to begin practice Aug. 6. The Lawrenceville, Ga., product was among the top 30 offensive linemen in the country according to rivals.com and scout.com. … With rain in the Tuscaloosa area, the Tide practiced indoors for the second straight day Friday afternoon.