Best 2009 Player Wants To Improve

Mark Ingram has a Heisman Trophy. He also has the sniffles. An unusual amount of spring pollen in Tuscaloosa is making Ingram miserable. "My allergies are killing me," he said. He wants to get more ways than one.

Miserable or not, Mark Ingram is doing what one would expect of the upcoming junior star as Alabama reached the two-thirds mark of spring football practice.

"I'm just trying to be the best player I can be," he said. "I'm trying to improve every day. I'm trying to help this team get back to winning the SEC championship and getting another shot at the national championship. I don't have any pressure. I'm just trying to become the best player I can be."

Specifically, he said, he is paying attention to detail. He wants to be better at recognizing defenses. He wants to be better in pass protection. "In general, I'm just trying to become a better player in everything I do, in every aspect of my game," he said.

Ingram is more comfortable this year, and not just because of the year he had in 2009. His school record 1,658 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns helped Alabama to a 14-0 record and the national championship. He was the offensive MVP of the national championship game as he rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns. And, of course, he won the Heisman.

"Last year there was a whole bunch of new faces on offense – a new quarterback, new line and new running backs," Ingram said. "We were young, some of us had played before, but we weren't really established yet. This year we are real confident and picking up where we left off last year. I think that (experience) has helped our offense."

He said practice is "more comfortable, more relaxed. Everybody's knows each other. Everybody's kind of gelled. We're comfortable in the huddle. We look at film together. There is great camaraderie, great relationships. Everyone is comfortable and having fun."

On a more practical note, he said having so many players back at skill positions "benefits us because we don't have many mental breakdowns in plays and because we can put in different plays and different looks because we have been in the offense for a year or two and know the basic parts of the offense. We can open things up a little more because of having more experience."

He said there are new wrinkles in spring practice this year, most of them aimed at opening up the offense by getting the ball out to the play-makers on the perimeter. "They can make explosive plays," he said.

"There were times last year they'd play eight or nine in the box and we were still running it; we wouldn't get the ball out to the perimeter to our play-makers. That's a point of emphasis this spring. People load up the box to stop our run, we get the ball to the play-makers so they can stretch the field and make plays. They are dangerous and we need to get them the ball."

The passing game dominated statistics in the Tide's first scrimmage last Friday, quarterbacks Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarron completing 70 per cent of their passes and accumulating almost 500 yards.

""They were making plays," Ingram said. "We took shots downfield. They weren't dropping balls, Greg was making the right reads, and all that showed up. Instead of incomplete passess or interceptions, those were big, explosive plays. I don't think it's anything to be concerned about. We're going to stay balanced. But we've got play-makers and they are going to make plays if we put them in the right position."

Top receiver for Bama in the scrimmage was Julio Jones. After a bit of a sophomore slump last season, much is expected of Jones.

Ingram said, "I don't see much difference. He's always been a hard worker, he's always been a play-maker. He was just a little banged up last year. He looks good. He's strong, fast, doesn't mind going up and getting the ball. He busts his butt no matter whether he's getting the ball or the ball's going away from him. That's the same Julio I've seen since I've been here."

Alabama has a practice Friday, then returns to Bryant-Denny Stadium for a Saturday scrimmage. A week after that, on Saturday, April 17, the Crimson Tide will have its final work of the spring, the A-Day Game. There is no admission charge for the event, which begins at 2 p.m. CDT and which will be nationally televised by ESPN.

Perhaps by then Alabama's offensive package will include Ingram and Trent Richardson, his back-up last season and a Freshman All-SEC performer, in the backfield together. Ingram said that hasn't been put into the offense yet, "but hopefully that will come soon."

Ingram, 5-10, 212, said, "We don't lose a step when I come out and Trent goes in. He's strong, powerful, and has a lot of speed. And he's become smarter every day. He's learned more about the offense, more about defensive fronts, more about pass protection. He's become more and more solid every day."

As a freshman, the 5-10, 220-pound Richardson rushed for 751 yards and eight touchdowns.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said in 2009, "I think the running backs did a good job all year. I think last year we started off slow on offense. If you remember the first half of the Virginia Tech game, probably not many people thought we could make a first down. We couldn't run the ball, we couldn't pass the ball. We had a lot of new guys playing, a lot of young guys. We were rebuilding the offensive line.

"But we got better in the second half, and we got better each week in the season. We hit some bumps in the road, but I thought those guys probably were the salvation.

"Their consistency was very important to the development of the offense, the confidence of the offense. The ability of those guys to run the ball really gave our offensive line confidence. I really do think their performance contributed to the chemistry of the offensive team and the confidence of our whole team quite a bit because of the competitors they are, the leaders they are, the leadership they showed by the example they set."

Ingram also had praise for other running backs, including redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy ("real quick, runs with power"), junior Jeramie Griffin ("bigger than everyone, a bruiser, who is trying to push through after his knee surgery"), and junior Demetrius Goode ("real quick, real fast, real instinctive").

Ingram also pointed to an offensive line that is "doing real well. They are big and strong. They get a good push. Some of them are young, some haven't had much game experience, but Coach (Joe) Pendry is getting them right. They are all working really hard. Whoever is out there is going to be a great offensive line because they are all good players, they are all competing, and they are all working hard."

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