Spring Competition Got More Important

It was a surprise when rumors began circulating early this week that there had been a very positive (for Glen Coffee) report on Coffee's status for the National Football League draft. Coffee liked it, too, and announced he would be leaving Alabama after a junior season in which he was one of the top runners in the Southeastern Conference.

Alabama followers expected to lose one junior following the 2008 season in which the Crimson Tide managed a 12-2 record with just nine scholarshipped seniors. The loss of Glen Coffee had not been factored into the rebuilding process by most.

It was no surprise that Andre Smith would forgo his final year of eligibility, and the offensive tackle confirmed that following his suspension from the team for the Sugar Bowl. Coffee was another story and his talents will definitely be missed in 2009. Last year he ran for 1,383 yards, tying Shaun Alexander for second place in Alabama single season records.

Coffee, 6-1, 198, averaged 98 yards per game and 5.9 yards per carry with 10 touchdowns in earning All-SEC honors. Alabama's media relations office issued a statement from Coffee in which he said "I really enjoyed my time at The University of Alabama, but I think it is the right time for me to move on to the NFL. Alabama has been a tremendous place for me to develop as both a football player and a person. I couldn't have asked for a better group of coaches. I want to personally thank Coach Saban and Coach Burns (Head Coach Nick Saban and Running Backs Coach Burton Burns) for everything they have done for me."

At the beginning of the season there seemed to be a four-man depth chart at tailback – Coffee, followed by Roy Upchurch, Terry Grant (the starter as a freshman for much of the 2007 season), and true freshman Mark Ingram.

Grant, Bama's smallest back at 5-9, 190, fell out of the mix quickly, dropping from 891 rushing yards in 2007 to only 88 in 2008. There have been several unsubstantiated reports that Grant would transfer.

Upchurch, 6-0, 201, was a strong contributor early in the season, but missed all but a few plays of action in the final five games of the year with a neck or back problem that required "a procedure" prior to the Sugar Bowl. He was listed as questionable for spring practice, which puts his future in doubt.

Ingram is the clear leader for running back going to spring practice. The 5-10, 215-pound sophomore-to-be had an excellent first year with 135 carries for 702 yards, 5.4 yards per carry with 12 touchdowns.

One possibility at tailback is Jeramie Griffin, who will be a sophomore in 2009. Griffin, 6-2, 228, was listed as a fullback when signed, but Alabama uses a fullback almost never. When the Tide does use a fullback, it is more often a tight end dropped into the backfield. The closest thing to a true fullback is upcoming senior Baron Huber, 6-3, 249, who gets most of his playing time on special teams.

Other competitors at the running back position in the spring include Demetrius Goode, a 5-10, 197-pound sophomore; and Ivan Matchett, a 5-10, 215-pound redshirt freshman.

There is one other scholarshipped running back on hand for spring football practice. Last August it was announced by Saban that Jermaine Preyear would not enter The University with his fellow 2008 signees because he needed surgery to repair a problem from his prep days at Davidson High School in Mobile. Preyear, 5-11, 205, is enrolled as a true freshman this spring semester.

One of the top commitments for Alabama this recruiting season is an outstanding running back, Trent Richardson from Pensacola (Fla.) Escambia High. Richardson, 5-11, 210, is still being hotly recruited by the likes of LSU, FSU and Florida, but is considered to be firm to Saban. Richardson, of course, will not be in college football drills until the summer.

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