DKW 86 6,371 Posted August 9, 2006 Share Posted August 9, 2006 http://www.commercialappeal.com/mca/footba...4899104,00.html Darby a believer in Alabama offense Associated Press files If Kenneth Darby's carries are down this season, the senior won't complain. He has confidence the Tide offense will come through. Kenneth Darby isn't focusing on possibly becoming the University of Alabama's career leading rusher. "I go into a game just wanting to be productive on every carry," said Darby, an All-Southeastern Conference running back who is entering his senior season. He isn't worried about new Crimson Tide starting quarterback John Parker Wilson. "He's getting better every day," Darby said. Darby isn't concerned whether his role will change this season. "I might have a few more carries this year, or a few less," Darby said. "I'll do whatever it takes. We feel like we've got to put more points on the board this season." If Alabama wants to challenge for the SEC's Western Division title this season, it has to score more. Last year, thanks to a unit that led Division 1-A in scoring defense (10.7 points allowed per game) and total defense (255.1 yards per game), the Tide managed to go 10-2 overall and 6-2 in the SEC. But the offense, even with then-senior quarterback Brodie Croyle, seemed to go downhill after losing wide receiver Tyrone Prothro to a broken leg against Florida in the season's fifth game. Alabama averaged 29.6 points through a stunning 31-3 victory over Florida. After losing Prothro, 'Bama averaged 13.4 points in its remaining five SEC games, including losses to LSU (16-13) and Auburn (28-18). Even the Cotton Bowl victory, a 13-10 decision over Texas Tech, was a struggle. Darby, who has 2,489 career rushing yards and needs 1,077 yards to break Shaun Alexander's career rushing record of 3,565 yards, believes the offense will be better this season. His reasons? There's a more experienced offensive line, his abilities and his faith in Wilson. "Our offensive line got their feet wet last year," Darby said. "Now, they have experience and know what to do, so they will be 10 times better. They are more comfortable." Darby said he believes he's one of the three best running backs in the league along with Auburn's Kenny Irons and Arkansas' recently injured Darren McFadden. Also, when you ask Darby who's the most underrated player in the SEC, he replies, "Kenneth Darby." Alabama coach Mike Shula knows the importance of Darby, who had limited snaps in the spring because of knee tendinitis. "Two years ago, we ran the ball as much as any team I've ever been around," said Shula, "and Kenneth had a few games with carries in the mid 30s (36 vs. Mississippi State and 35 vs. LSU in consecutive games). I'm not sure we'll see him carry it that much this season, because we feel we've got some depth behind him and we have the ability to throw. "But when Kenneth is on his game, we're a much better football team." Because of Darby -- and having nine returning offensive starters -- Shula feels he has enough talent surrounding Wilson to relieve some of the pressure on his new starting QB. "John has good arm strength, touch and accuracy," Shula said. "He's not a Vince Young or anything, but we think he's mobile enough to create when he needs to. We'll do some things to get him in and out of the pocket. "But I also think that everybody involved offensively has to have a hand in how we move the football. We can't just rely on the quarterback." Still, Darby and his teammates have a lot of faith in Wilson, a 6-3, 213-pound sophomore from Hoover (Ala.) High who played in five games last year as a true freshman. He completed 7-of-11 passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns, but gained headlines for being arrested last October for driving under the influence. The spring was a leap in Wilson's learning process. He threw 10 interceptions in 10 scrimmages, including two in the annual A-Day game when he also completed 21-of-31 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns. "This is a chance for me to show what I can do, so I don't think of this as pressure," Wilson said after the spring game. "I know I have a lot of work to do, but I'm ready to show everyone what I can do." Darby takes note of the fact that Wilson guided Hoover to the Class 6A state championship as a senior and a junior. "He comes from a high school that was used to winning championships," Darby said. "He brings a lot of energy and a lot of spirit. We're going to embrace that and feed off him. We love the guy." -- Ron Higgins: 529-2525 Alabama's all-time leading rushers Back (Years) / Yards / Shaun Alexander ('96-99) / 3,565 / Bobby Humphrey ('85-88) / 3,420 / Johnny Musso ('69-71) / 2,741 / Dennis Riddle ('94-97) / 2,645 / Bobby Marlow ('50-52) / 2,560 / Johnny Davis ('74-77) / 2,519 / Kenneth Darby (2003-) / 2,489 / Past: It has been a tough turnaround for fourth-year Alabama coach Mike Shula. He took over a Tide program after spring practice in '03 when 'Bama athletic director Mal Moore dumped new coach Mike Price for off-the-field indiscretions. By year two under Shula, 'Bama was 6-6 and in a bowl. Last year, thanks to the nation's No. 2 defense, Alabama went 10-2 overall and 6-2 in the SEC's Western Division, with a 13-10 victory over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl boosting the Crimson Tide to No. 8 in the final rankings of both polls for the first time since 1999. But in Alabama, Shula, a former Tide quarterback and son of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, knows you're only as good as your last season. There's also the bottom-line fact he's 0-3 vs. hated rival Auburn. The last Tide coach who lost three straight to Auburn was Bill Curry, who had a brick thrown through his office window shortly before he departed for his next coaching job at Kentucky. No Alabama coach has ever lost his first four Alabama-Auburn games. Present: Alabama has 9-of-11 returning starters on offense, but graduated quarterback Brodie Croyle (drafted by the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs in round three) is one of the missing. The new gunslinger in T-Town is sophomore John Parker Wilson, who Tide players say is more physical than the rail-thin Croyle. Wilson may be throwing a lot of safe, short routes early in the season to establish rhythm and confidence. Until then, stud All-SEC senior running back Kenneth Darby and exciting sophomore backup Jimmy Johns are more than able to carry the load. Defense is where the Tide got hit by graduation, especially at linebacker and in the secondary, losing two and three starters respectively. Three of those players lost were drafted by the NFL, including second-round picks linebacker DeMeco Ryans (by the Texans) and free safety Roman Harper (by the Saints). Future: Alabama simply doesn't have the defensive hosses it had last year, and no one is sure that the Tide can compensate with that by scoring more points on offense. Wilson is unproven at quarterback, and 'Bama probably still won't have game-breaking wide receiver Tyrone Prothro back (broken leg last year against Florida) for most or all this season. Considering Alabama's four toughest SEC games are on the road at Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee and LSU, it looks like 'Bama is staring at least an 8-4 season and maybe 7-5 overall, with a probable 4-4 record in the SEC. And if Shula loses again to Auburn, all bets are off about his job security. -- Ron Higgins Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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