The Tide’s offensive and defensive MVPs from the 2009 National Championship victory over Texas were sidelined. Junior running back Mark Ingram went down with a knee injury Aug. 30 and received arthroscopic knee surgery the next day, while junior defensive lineman Marcell Dareus had already been given a two-game suspension for violating NCAA rules over the summer.
Having two of the biggest leaders on the team thrown to the sidelines was not only a shock to the Alabama nation but also caused some questions.
Although no Tide fans or football players were obviously not thrilled to hear the news of their players, perhaps it wasn’t all bad. Alabama is undefeated, and Ingram’s and Dareus’ time out gave other Tide players an opportunity to gain experience, and thus improve its depth.
“I think anytime guys get the opportunity to go out and play in a game-like situation, there is obviously things that are going to help them grow and mature and that experience is going to be beneficial, but that is sort of a work in progress,” said head coach Nick Saban. “Every game that you play, you are going to get a little bit better from that standpoint, and hopefully our guys that didn’t have a lot of experience will benefit from the experience. I think that will continue to build as the season progresses.”
Despite being unable to play during games, Dareus has not taken a break from helping his team. During his time out, he worked on the scout team going against the offense to prepare them for the Penn State game.
“You have to roll with the punches, and it was devasting news when we found out about Ingram and Dareus,” said senior tight end Preston Dial. “Marcell has earned so much respect from his teammates since he’s been out. He tucked his pride away and was on the scout team all last week preparing us for their defensive ends. Someone as skilled as Marcell – he didn’t have to do that, but he put his selfishness away.”
When Dial was asked what it was like going up against such a dominate playmaker during practice last week, he laughed and explained how it wasn’t an easy task, but it challenged him as a player.
“It’s like playing a game on Tuesday and Wednesday,” Dial said. “There’s nothing like seeing that big forearm in front of you. I’m glad that his sentence is up so he can come join us on the other side of the field. Of course, you have to respect big things with someone with as much motive and passion as he has. We’re excited to have him back, and I’m sure those linebackers are happy to have him back too.”
Dareus became a starter last season and worked his way from unknown to star as the season went on, capping the progression with an eye-opening performance in the BCS National Championship game.
Another Tide defensive lineman expressed his excitement for having Dareus back in the lineup.
“With Marcell coming back, that’s going to help us tremendously in pressure,” said junior defensive lineman Josh Chapman. “He works hard in pass rush because that’s one thing that he loves to do. By playing on the scout team, I think he was trying to stay in the swing of things. He was helping our offense and helping himself.”
Ingram being absent these past two weeks has given sophomore running back Trent Richardson a chance to become a playmaker. Last week, he became the first player to get more than 100 rushing yards against the Penn State defense since 2008. He had 92 in the first quarter and easily accomplished that feat by halftime. Without the Heisman Trophy winner’s injury, Richardson and other Tide players wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to improve and gain game experience.
“Mark went down and everyone had to step up,” said junior wide receiver Julio Jones. “We don’t know when someone’s going to go down, so the next guy has to be ready to play. The depth we have at each position is great for us. Any of those guys can step up and make a play like Kevin Norwood did against Penn State.”
While Ingram’s involvement in Duke’s game is expected to be limited, he’s still expected to make an impact on the offense. Dareus, on the other hand, is ready to immediately come back into the game, since his absence did not involve an injury.
“The key for us is that they’ve both proven around here that they are capable players and that they can be very effective,” Saban said. “Mark had a great camp. Injuries are just part of the game. He’s been out for two weeks. Mark is a very good player and he’s going to make us better on offense. Marcell is a very good player and he’s going to make us better on defense. Marcell’s attitude has been good playing on scout team to prepare our team. In Marcell’s case, he’s just full metal jacket – he’s ready to play for us.”
Some of their teammates are also hoping that having the two key players back will bring an emotional lift to the team.
“It will help us out a lot,” said senior quarterback Greg McElroy. “It’s fresh faces in the huddle. I’m looking forward to them getting back and competing. It’s been tough for them being on the sidelines, so their anxious to get back out there.”
Alabama gaining both Ingram and Dareus back has built even more confidence within the team.
“Anytime you add two players like that back to a team it’s obviously going to be nothing but improvement,” said junior defensive back Will Lowery. “They’re both tremendous players and it’s going to definitely help us. In their absence, we had guys that were willing to step up. But, the caliber of game that Ingram and Dareus play is going to be a big step up.”