Coffee topping ‘Bama’s running back rotation

Published 8:00 pm Tuesday, August 26, 2008

TUSCALOOSA – Alabama’s Glen Coffee has ambitious goals for the season. He just isn’t sharing them.

The 24th-ranked Crimson Tide’s newly named starting tailback overtook last year’s leading rusher Terry Grant for the job in fall camp. Coffee’s ascension last season was hindered by a shoulder injury and a four-game suspension just after claiming the starting assignment against Tennessee.

“It’s going to be a whole different season,” Coffee said. “I don’t like talking about it, but there’s going to be things that I plan to do that I’ve never done on a college level.

“Y’all will see. It’s going to be a whole other season.”

Besides being the No. 1 guy for a change, the new things will almost certainly include more opportunities to catch the ball out of the backfield in Jim McElwain’s new offense. Coffee is hoping it will include a few more big plays and an improvement on last season’s four touchdowns.

He was one of five ‘Bama players suspended on the eve of the Tennessee game for violating NCAA rules by using their athletic scholarships to obtain free textbooks for other students.

The Tide, which opens Saturday night at No. 9 Clemson, has four runners in the mix for carries. Coach Nick Saban has listed Grant and freshman Mark Ingram as vying for the No. 2 spot, ahead of Roy Upchurch.

“Glen Coffee is Mr. Consistency for us in terms of being able to do just about everything, whether it’s being a good receiver, being a good blocker and being decent when he has the ball in his hands,” Saban said.

Coffee started three games last season, finishing with 545 yards and a 4.2-yard per carry average. Grant gained 891 yards with eight touchdowns and a 4.9-yard average.

Ingram is the wildcard in the group. The 5-foot-10, 215-pounder from Flint, Mich., has impressed Saban during fall camp.

“Mark Ingram has probably been the surprise of all the young players in terms of his maturity as a player,” Saban said. “He’s elusive, he has speed, but he has power and tremendous toughness, and he’s a good receiver. He’s a very, very good all around guy.”

Ingram is also the biggest of the Tide’s tailbacks. The rest hover around 200 pounds and struggled to pick up first downs in short yardage situations at times last season.

The 190-pound Grant, for instance, was stopped for no gain on back to back runs starting on third-and-2 deep in Louisiana-Monroe territory in the fourth quarter of that loss last season.

“We don’t have a third-down back in that bunch,” Saban said. “We feel like several of those guys can play that role and we certainly need to figure out ways to use that group.”

Added Coffee: “Third-and-2 is just as important as a 50-yard gain when it comes down to it.”

Coffee, whose longest run last season was 20 yards, said he is aiming to produce more big plays.

For now, he might not even be the best-known tailback on his own team after Grant’s impressive redshirt freshman season. Coffee will certainly be overshadowed by Clemson stars James Davis and C.J. Spiller going into Saturday night’s game.

He said he won’t have time to watch them from the sidelines, “but I will be tuning in after the game and I will find out what they rushed for, so I can’t lie about that.”

And after the season, he’s hoping a lot more people outside Alabama know his name.

“When I make a name for myself, it means I’m doing something to help the team win, I’m bettering the team,” Coffee said. “When we do good individually, the team does better also. I plan to do something, I don’t know what. I might get carries, I might not get carries. But whatever I get, I’m going to work my hardest.”