TUSCALOOSA _ It may surprise some people to learn that the University of Alabama's leading receiver through three games of the 2009 season isn't a wideout, but sophomore running back Mark Ingram.
He has 10 catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns, ahead of senior wide receiver Mike McCoy's six for 138 yards and three players with six receptions each.
"I'm happy to get some catches out there and show my versatility," Ingram said.
While part of that is obviously due to sophomore Julio Jones being out with a bruised knee, it's also reflective of how junior Greg McElroy has been spreading the ball around with 13 players already having receptions, and going through his progressions. For example, Ingram was the quarterback's last option on the short pass he turned into a 29-yard touchdown.
But the offensive flexibility has been seen in many other ways in the backfield, which has already accumulated 803 rushing yards with four players exceeding 100.
"I basically sort of get a feeling when the game's going on," Coach Nick Saban said about swapping running backs in and out. "We usually say we are going to have guy carry it three or four times and the next guy is going to go in and carry it three or four times, and then maybe you have a guy that is assigned to a specific role, whether it's third down or whatever. Sort of from that scenario, you kind of get a feel for who has the hot hand or who maybe is the guy that's rolling out there like you would like to see it and maybe that guy plays a little bit more than the other guys in that particular game. It's really evaluate them and then see who's got the feel."
Ingram leads the unit with 297 yards on 44 carries (6.8 average) and three touchdowns, but Trent Richardson has looked like his twin of late. Despite barely playing in the season opener against Virginia Tech, the true freshman has 215 yards on 29 carries (7.4 average) and also three touchdowns.
"He's had an opportunity and I think he's taken advantage of it," Saban said. "He's proven that he deserves to have a role on our team and I think he has done extremely well to this point."
Meanwhile, having senior nose guard Terrence Cody in the backfield in short-yardage situations has been almost as much fun for the running backs as the numerous big gains.
"It's exciting," Ingram said. "You watch the film on Monday and you see guys run out of the way, it's kind of funny."
Injury /practice report
Jones was back in his regular spot during Monday's practice. Senior running back Roy Upchurch (sprained ankle) was dressed, but was getting taped up on the trainer's table when reporters were allowed to observe. Saban said both players will be "evaluated day-to-day."
Their absence has given others opportunities to contribute, but teammates are especially anxious to see Jones play again.
"Last year he used to draw double and triple coverage, but now that we have a lot of receivers stepping up I don't think they're going to be able to do that to him," Ingram said. "With him coming back right now it will just be another weapon out there, another headache for the defense to deal with."
Sophomore running back Demetrius Goode sustained a hyper-extended knee against North Texas and was wearing black, signaling no contract, along with freshman wide receiver Kenny Bell (shin splints).
Junior Terry Grant was working at running back. Two weeks ago he got some work in at wide receiver.
Sophomore linebacker Jerrell Harris was back in his usual No. 5 after wearing a scout team jersey last week, but was not listed on the team's official depth chart.
Senior punter P.J. Fitzgerald was still wearing No. 7 after switching from No. 97 for Saturday's game because senior defensive lineman Lorenzo Washington played on special teams and it's illegal to have two players with an identical number on the field simultaneously.
For the first time this season Alabama was shut out of the weekly conference awards, with Cody and senior Javier Arenas honorable mention selections.
McElroy and senior tight end Colin Peek were named the coaching staff's offensive players of the week, while Cody and sophomore safety Mark Barron shared the defensive award. Arenas shared the special teams honor with sophomores Robby Green and Chris Jordan.
"We have a war-daddy board which is kind of a character, attitude, how you compete, how you execute," Saban said. "We actually had less mental errors and I think we played with a little bit more passion, so we had a lot more guys on that board for this week."
Next week at Kentucky will be the 11:21 a.m. game on the SEC Network. The rest of the SEC lineup will be LSU at Georgia, 2:30 p.m. CBS; Ole Miss at Vanderbilt, 6 p.m. ESPNU; South Carolina State at South Carolina, 6 p.m., ESPN Classic; Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (at Arlington, Texas), 6 p.m. ESPN; Georgia Tech at Mississippi State, 6 p.m. CSS; Auburn at Tennessee, 6:45 p.m., ESPN.
Despite the recent rain, field conditions at Bryant-Denny Stadium were good Saturday. "They weren't too bad, it was a little wet early, but the sun came out right before the game and it dried things up," Ingram said. The Tide practiced inside again Monday and the forecast for Saturday is 40 percent chance of thunderstorms.
According to junior middle linebacker Rolando McClain if something happened to him during a game Jordan would be his replacement: "In his second year he's playing with a lot more confidence. He's just making plays."
Although in terms of eligibility McElroy is a junior, he's already in graduate school for sports management with most of his classes in the evening hours. "It's pretty enjoyable sleeping in, relaxing, watching extra film during the day," he said. The honors student has never dropped a class and his lowest grade has been a B+.