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April 10, 2012TUSCALOOSA | Jalston Fowler is getting a view from the top this spring, and the University of Alabama running back likes what he sees.
With one UA running back turning pro early (Trent Richardson) and another missing spring drills with an injury (Eddie Lacy), the Mobile native has been thrust into a primary role in Alabama's offensive backfield this spring.
At 242 pounds, his style is unmistakable: downhill, power running. Fowler's favorite back? Another with the same kind of game: Former Pittsburgh Steelers star Jerome Bettis.
"You have to be physical, tough. You can't be scared," Fowler said. "You can't shy away from contact."
He certainly doesn't do that, as UA defensive players will attest.
"Jalston is big and heavy. He's probably the same size as T.J. Duckett," said linebacker Adrian Hubbard. "It's like trying to tackle a big train. He's huge."
Funny Hubbard should make the Duckett comparison, given that the former Michigan State star was recruited by UA coach Nick Saban to the Spartans. Duckett went onto a seven-year NFL career with a similar size and running style. Fowler began his college career practicing at linebacker, but was moved to running back soon after and has gradually made his way into more playing time. He played sparingly in 2010.
"I think he really fits well in our offense because he's such a downhill runner," said center Barrett Jones. "He's so physical. I've never really seen a back as physical as him. The linebackers will never say this but if I was one of them, I would not want to thud him up in practice. He's such a big load."
As difficult as bigger backs can be to tackle when they find running room between the tackles, they often are less comfortable -- and less effective -- running sweeps and other plays that call for them to turn a corner on the perimeter of the defense.
UA coach Nick Saban said Fowler is fully capable of running outside with effectiveness -- noting that some of his biggest plays last season came around the end -- but that the sophomore is at his best running upfield.
"If you're a power pitcher and you get 26 outs throwing fastballs, you ought not lose the game in the bottom of the ninth throwing a changeup," Saban said. "That's what I think. Jalston Fowler is what he is. He's a big guy who's hard to tackle and people don't like to tackle him. He does have good speed for his size, and he can run the ball on the edge on certain types of plays. ... He has demonstrated that he runs the ball well with his pads pointed north and south. That doesn't mean he doesn't have some ability to cut and make people miss. He does. He's probably got better speed than people think."
Last season, Fowler rushed 56 times for 385 yards for the Crimson Tide, averaging 6.9 yards per carry. Much of that, however, came in the latter part of Alabama wins in which the opposing defenses were fatigued.
Fowler was quick to recognize that, and knows a larger role in 2012 will be more of a challenge in that regard.
"I know they were pretty exhausted. I know you get tired of tackling Trent and Eddie," Fowler said. "Those guys are great. They have speed. They're going to bruise you up. I come in and I'm going to bruise you up a lot more."
Reach Chase Goodbread at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0196.