The First Battle

With Kenneth Darby on the mend from last year's injury one of the most-watched and important early position battles will be for the job as Darby's back-up, and there should be plenty of repetitions to go around for all three of the Tide's new tailbacks when fall camp begins on Tuesday in Tuscaloosa.

Darby is expected to be physically able to endure full contact this fall, but after months of little or no activity preceding and immediately after sports hernia surgery, soreness will undoubtedly creep in and he will be monitored very closely.

If there's a benefit to any limiting soreness, it's that Alabama's three new running backs, Glen Coffee, Roy Upchurch and Ali Sharrief will have ample opportunities to battle for a back-up spot.

Because Sharrief is the smallest of the three, and because he had shoulder surgery that was expected to take four months of rehabilitation, most observers expect the early battle to be primarily between Coffee and Upchurch.

"I'm 6-1, 205 right now," Coffee said Monday. "I actually lost weight before I got here - about seven pounds - but I gained it all back so hopefully it was all muscle. I feel like I'm good enough to take punishment and take a couple of hits. I'm feeling good."

Upchurch listed a very similar 6-0, 207 pounds.

Coffee appears to have a stronger upper body, while Upchurch looks more lean and long.

"We're going to be neck and neck," Upchurch said. "They said at my position I really have to understand blocking and understand where the blitz is coming from. They're not worrying about the talent, they're not worried about if I can run the ball, they just worry about protecting the quarterback on third-and-10."

"It's a different style in college than high school because it could come from anywhere."

Upchurch hasn't been daunted by the lengthy lexicon of the Alabama playbook yet, but he said in addition to blocking, knowing those assignments front and back would be the key to who plays and who sits.

"The playbook is easy, it's just so much wording. It's a ton of wording. You have to get an understanding of what the quarterback is saying and the key word that you look for at your position.

"Knowing the playbook, that's about it," he said. "Skill, talent, we've both got about the same amount of talent. Same speed. Who can pick up the playbook and pick up the key blocks first? That's it."

Coffee said he has felt mentally and physically prepared to this point, but he understands things haven't really started yet.

"I was mentally prepared for it, so it didn't hit me too hard," Coffee said. "I felt like I took it running. It's a college program, the SEC. It's going to be hard, it's going to be tough, but just stick with it and everybody will be okay."

Senior quarterback Brodie Croyle singled Coffee out at SEC Media Days last week, saying he was impressed by Coffee's maturity and work ethic.

"It was sort of good to hear but it doesn't mean anything as of right now. The coaches will make the final decision," Coffee said.

"It's going to be a little more intense with two-a-days and full pads coming. We're now a part of the team. Before we were learning the ropes but now they're going to throw us in the fire, so we have to be ready for it."

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