A great player went down, Darby hopes to step up

Coaches preach it to their players all the time. Injuries happen every season, and it's up to the other athletes at the position to be prepared to step up. The last thing true freshman Kenneth Darby wanted was for Ahmaad Galloway to be injured, but now that it has happened he knows what he's got to do. <br><br>"A great player went down," Darby said. "The coaches called my number--so what I've got to do now is be ready."

Losing Galloway for the season will be a tough blow to absorb, but Darby is determined to be ready if needed. "Ahmaad's injury changes my outlook a little, but not that much," Darby related. "I'm looking at the picture from a slightly bigger view now. I'm still seeing it like I did when I came in here, but I'm stepping up my game a little higher than it was. I'm going to work hard and try to play.

"What I have to do now is prepare for the possibility (of playing this year)."

Coach Fobbs directs traffic as he puts Darby (#33) and the other Tide tailbacks through blitz pickup drills.

Torn knee ligaments suffered in last Saturday's game have ended Galloway's season. In his absence Shaud Williams, Santonio Beard and Ray Hudson can be expected to get the lion's share of carries. But Franchione said Sunday that the Tide would need a fourth tailback to help carry the load.

Rushing for 1,591 yards and 20 touchdowns hhis senior season, Darby was the No. 1 prep tailback in the state last season. Darby is the leading candidate for the role of fourth tailback. And sophomore walk-on Josh Smith is also a possibility.

"We'll look at them both this week in practice and make the call," Franchione said Tuesday.

Franchione went on to note that Darby has gotten significant work with the first- and second-team offense this fall, which means he's farther along now than otherwise might be expected. Tuesday Darby worked exclusively with the varsity offense, getting up-close-and-personal attention from the Tide coaches. "Things haven't gone too bad," Darby said afterwards. "There have been a few bumps as I work to get my technique back, but everything is going fine. Practice today wasn't too different. I got some more reps, which helped me get back into it, since I'm just coming off this shoulder injury."

A partially separated shoulder suffered during two-a-days is pretty much healed now, and Darby is ready to go. "I'm fine right now with my shoulder," he said. "It hasn't been giving me much problem. It's getting stronger. I'm almost at 100 percent. I'm feeling all right."

Franchione believes that when it comes to true freshmen being ready to play, their mental adjustments are as important as anything else. "I'm still learning, but I've come a long way from when I first came in," Darby acknowledged. "I know the plays a lot better now--much more than when I arrived. But I'm still learning more. There's new stuff being added and stuff being taken away. I'm adjusting well.

Darby (#33) and fellow tailback Santonio Beard (#34) watch the action during Tuesday's practice.

"I'll be comfortable if they put me in the game."

Running Backs Coach Lee Fobbs commented on his talented youngster. "Kenneth has great athletic ability. Speed, size, strength--he's got all the tools. But the amazing thing about him is his intelligence and his ability to pick up the offense."

For most young tailbacks, the hardest thing to learn in adjusting to college football is blitz pick-up. Protecting the quarterback is paramount, and the inability to do so keeps more running backs on the bench than anything else. "The biggest key for a young running back is protection," Fobbs explained. "Kenneth has done a magnificent job learning that. He's speeding up the process as far as him being in a position to play. I'm excited about him."

"I'm still working on blocking," Darby acknowledged. "There is a whole different blocking scheme when you come to college. There are certain people you've got to block, certain techniques you've got to use. I'm betting better. Everything is still a learning experience for me. I'm learning every day, but I feel better now on the field."

Walk-on tailback Josh Smith, shown during tackling drills, is also being considered for the role of No. 4 tailback.

Darby will probably make the trip to Arkansas as a "traveling redshirt," but the decision on whether or not to actually play him in a game may not be made for several weeks. In the meantime, hard-working Josh Smith is a possibility.

Like most walk-ons, Smith has had to battle for every bit of responsibility he's achieved. So far Smith's biggest moments in Crimson have occurred in A-Day games, where the Birmingham native has impressed fans with his tough-but-fast running style. "The nice thing about Josh Smith is that when you travel him, you get a special teams guy as well as a reserve tailback," Franchione commented.

But if an additional tailback is needed to make plays to win the football game, don't be surprised to see the "shirt" taken off Darby. "Yes sir! I think I'm ready," he said confidently. "I think I can contribute this year to the team. I knew people were saying I was going to redshirt, but I just kept working hard. I never lost my focus.

"We'll find out when my chance gets here, but I think I'm ready."


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