TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s a trendy opinion that only gained steam over the slow summer months.
Could returning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram really be the second best running back in the Crimson Tide backfield?
The other option, sophomore Trent Richardson, heard the same talk. But does he believe it?
The title remains Ingram’s, he said.
“I think Mark’s vision is way better,” Richardson said. “And he’s got that experience, too.”
Coming off a breakout freshman season, Ingram’s understudy saw his share of valuable playing time in 2009. His 751 total yards (and 5.2 yards per carry) eclipsed Ingram’s rookie rushing total of 728 as the backup to Glen Coffee in 2008.
And so the buzz machine goes.
As Ingram said at SEC media days, Richardson believes the two feed off each other while giving the other a breather from time to time.
Both have a bruising style that necessitates breaks here and there.
All they need now is a new third back, coordinator Jim McElwain said.
“I think one of the things we did a very good job of — the first year I was here was we had an opportunity to finish in the 4th quarter a couple of times and didn’t — I think as the season wore on, those two guys being fresh and, not to talk too much about last year,” McElwain said. “But Roy Upchurch gave us a huge lift at times. We also need to develop that position.”
Redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy is the best bet to fill in as a quality third-down back given his size at 6-foot, 212 pounds. He’s got a frame similar to Ingram’s and Richardson’s, but isn’t likely to surpass the two featured backs.
Making an impact so early in his Alabama career was “somewhat” of a surprise, Richardson said, although he came to Tuscaloosa as one of the top recruits in the nation.
“It was hard for me,” he said, “because I never sat behind anyone.
“It was different. I learned the game and Mark taught me a lot.”
Indirectly, Richardson’s high school basketball coach back home helped in the process of assuming his new supporting role.
“He would never let me go in,” a smiling Richardson said. “He really didn’t want me to get hurt.”
Healthy he stayed, and into the Alabama memory book he ran. Two of his long runs became defining moments in the 2009 national title run including a 52-yard touchdown run against Arkansas in which he broke five tackles.
In the second quarter of the BCS National Championship, he ran nearly untouched 49 yards for a second-quarter touchdown that put the Tide up 14-6.
Sprinting toward the end zone, Richardson couldn’t help thinking of his two daughters — ages 3 and 2 — living back home in Pensacola.
“I’m thinking my girls need to eat,” he said. “I’ve got to get a first down. There’s a hole there. I just have to go get it.”