He's Number Three

Spring football practice is a time for experimentation, and so some things on the pre-practice depth chart are certain to be different than the post-practice depth chart. But one of the things that is difficult to understand is how Jimmy Johns managed to drop from number two running back at the end of the 2005 season to number three going into spring training.

It would not have been a huge surprise if it had been announced that Jimmy Johns was going to be a quarterback in the spring. After all, he earned the title of "Mr. Football" in Mississippi as a quarterback at Brookhaven and was signed by Bama for that position.

It would not have been a surprise to see Johns listed as a linebacker, at least not to fans. It would have been a big surprise to Johns.

But Johns was not listed as a quarterback and he was not listed as a linebacker. He was listed as a running back. And there's no surprise there, but it was a bit of a surprise that Johns was listed number three.

Number one is no surprise. That's Kenneth Darby, who will be a pre-season all-star candidate as he attempts to become the all-time Alabama rushing leader in his senior season. Darby has been the Tide's top rusher each of the past two seasons.

The surprise is that Johns is listed behind Glen Coffee. Johns is third on the depth chart. Last year Johns played in every Bama game. He was the Tide's second leading rusher (albeit a distant second to Darby's 239 carries for 1,242 yards). Johns had 202 yards on 38 carries.

Coffee, a 6-0, 207-pounder, was third leading rusher with 48 carries for 179 yards.

Both upcoming sophomores have outstanding potential, and it is not a knock on Coffee to question why Johns is behind him. Johns, 6-2, 220, volunteered to move from quarterback to running back last fall. And he suggested finding a spot for himself on special teams (and ended up making one of the biggest plays of the year, forcing a fumble on kickoff coverage against Mississippi State, a fumble that Matt Miller returned for a touchdown in a tough 17-0 win over Mississippi State).

Alabama Coach Mike Shula had good things to say about Johns when the Bama coach met with the media earlier this week to discuss the upcoming Crimson Tide practices, which get underway Friday.

Johns isn't swapping positions, Shula said. Running backs coach Sparky Woods "put up the best fight to keep him."

Shula said. "You watch him from his first time carrying the football 'til the bowl game, even though he only had a couple of carries, but he's gotten a lot better with the bowl practices. I know there weren't very many guys on our defenses that wanted to tackle him in some of the scrimmages we had in December."

David Rader, Alabama's offensive coordinator, said, "We expect a lot of him. We expect him to become a more complete running back. He is a play-maker.

There were a couple of notable moments late last season when Johns lined up under center and run quarterback sweeps. Rader said he didn't know how many opportunities there would be in the spring to have Johns in different positions (the coach named shotgun and wide receiver as other possibilities), but said, "As we go through spring, we expect his role to expand."

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