A Motivating Factor

If you know running back Kenneth Darby very well, you know he's doing a slow simmer right now. Darby, the University of Alabama's juke-step master, will be asked at the SEC Media Days this week what he thinks about being left off the coaches' All-SEC first team.

The first time he's asked, Darby might actually say that's the first he's heard of it. (Darby isn't much for looking at newspapers or jumping on the Internet to read what people are saying about him). But his teammates usually keep him posted on the SEC rushing race or the latest league news.

Being picked second-team All-SEC will undoubtedly be a motivator for Darby, who has seemingly been underestimated for much of his college career.

We're not here to roast SEC coaches for selecting Kenny Irons and Darren McFadden as first teamers.

It's hard to argue against Irons, the Auburn back who led the SEC with 1,293 yards, a 107.8 per-game average and 13 rushing scores last year. And Darby doesn't possess the flair of McFadden, whose 6.3 yards per carry tied Arkansas teammate Felix Jones as the best among the SEC's elite runners. McFadden rushed for 1,113 yards and 11 touchdowns and bursts into 2006 as the SEC's best breakaway threat, so it's difficult to say he doesn't belong either.

Which puts Darby in a familiar position. Somewhat overlooked, even after coming off a 1,242-yard rushing performance with a 5.2 yards per carry average. Was it his fault that when the Crimson Tide pushed the ball into scoring territory he exited to make way for the Jumbo package? Fullback Tim Castille scored seven short-yardage touchdowns in 2005, while Darby put up just three scores from an average distance of 36 yards.

And let's not forget this performance came from a guy who was bouncing back from offseason hernia surgery which some people thought might disrupt his career.

Beware Darby in 2006.

Alabama will need to be proficient on the ground and probably even run-oriented with all the questions surrounding new quarterback John Parker Wilson and the passing game. Darby might not get the number of carries of an Irons for various reasons. The Crimson Tide coaches want him to have strong legs in the fourth quarter, and they've got a bevy of backs behind Darby -- Glen Coffee, Jimmy Johns and Roy Upchurch -- who are all seemingly on the brink of breakouts themselves.

But you can bet Darby will look to capitalize on every opportunity. He's chasing Shaun Alexander's school-record for career rushing yards and the Crimson Tide line is determined to help him get there. That brings up another factor. For all the grief this offensive line took for its pass-protection breakdowns -- and they were abysmal against LSU and Auburn -- they were above average on the road grading. They should be even better run blockers this year.

Of course Darby will have to hope that the Tide's passing attack can be imposing enough to keep safeties from cheating into the box and clogging up the running lanes.

So pay attention this week to what Darby has to say -- in his own dictionary-defying way -- this week at SEC Media Days. It might sound the alarm for a Darby uprising.


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