A semi-informed look at tailback

With two returning veterans topping the tailback depth chart, it's tempting to feel fairly good about the running back situation at Alabama. Certainly everyone will have to stay healthy and prove it again on the playing field. But the Tide has proven talent. <br><br>No doubt.

Key 2002 signee (Ken Darby) has yet to report, and won't get here until the second summer term. (Darby plans to participate in the Alabama/Mississippi All-Star game along with his close friend Ramzee Robinson--and Coach Franchione has encouraged him in that regard). Plus, redshirt freshman Marquez Dupree likely has more in his tank than he's shown so far.

But Running Backs Coach Lee Fobbs has to feel pretty good right now.

The headliners

Beard is Bama's most gifted back since Shaun Alexander.

Not since 1997 when the twin Alexanders, Shaun and Curtis, and Dennis Riddle all returned at tailback has Bama been this solid. Both Santonio Beard and Ahmaad Galloway have proven they can perform at the highest levels in the SEC. And to pervert the saying, "if you can run it there, you can run it anywhere."

Galloway's 881 yards ranked him third in the conference. Alabama, of course, led the SEC in total rushing by a significant margin. Coming on like gangbusters late in the season, Beard finished with 633 yards rushing, but his 8.22 yards per carry average was far ahead of any of the SEC's top 10 rushers. Galloway averaged 5.1 yards per carry, also good.

So who's really first string? Who knows?

Probably the coaches are telling the truth when they say Beard and Galloway are essentially co-No. 1. There is no real doubt that Beard has more God-given ability running the football, but that's not to slight the hard-nosed--and hard-running--Galloway.

One will be a senior (Ahmaad) and one a junior (Santonio), and at this point the senior is the better blocker and receiver. But Beard is an athlete, and with enough effort on his part, that dynamic could change.

So far this spring both have run well. Beard led all rushers at Saturday's scrimmage with 50 yards on five carries, and he looked very good doing it. Galloway added 42 yards on eight attempts.

Through extremely hard work in the weight room, Galloway has built himself into one of the strongest players on the squad.

Beard is a slashing type runner, but he also has broad shoulders and knows how to get himself square to punish would-be tacklers in the secondary. He needs to continue to get stronger, but he's been working at that in the weight room. And so long as Beard gets caught from behind on long (almost) touchdown runs, his conditioning will be questioned.

But it's hard to argue against the observation that the Nashville native has the look of a runner poised for a breakout season.

On the other hand, it's not at all fair to characterize Galloway as some sort of "junior partner." He is the returning starter, and his determination and work ethic make it easy to predict he'll get plenty of carries his senior season.

In truth, the two are excellent complements to each other. Right now Galloway has an edge in power with Beard getting the nod for football speed, but both runners have enough of the other side to make them dangerous. Understandably both would rather be "the man," with total attention focused on them. But Bama is a better team with both getting carries at tailback.


Josh Smith

After the big two, sophomore Josh Smith deserves to be listed No. 3. (we're holding Shaud Williams and Ray Hudson to deal with when we discuss the A-backs.) Smith is a walk-on out of Mountain Brook in Birmingham, who has gotten stronger in his two years on campus.

In Saturday's scrimmage Smith actually had the longest run, breaking off an impressive 40-yard jaunt late in the day.

Marquez Dupree

Smith hasn't yet really been given a chance to show what he can do on game day, but he appears to be a capable backup.

Unfortunately, so far Marquez Dupree remains an enigma. He's got good size (6-0, 215) and when healthy good speed as well. When going full out, he displays a long, loping stride that can eat up ground in a hurry. But so far "going full out" has not been a common characterization of Dupree at Alabama.

He's nursed injuries of one sort or another almost his entire young career, but now is his time to step it up. If not, with another top prospect arriving in the summer, Dupree will rapidly become a candidate for a position move.

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