TUSCALOOSA _ While most of the external attention on the University of Alabama football team this week has been on the imminent return of Heisman Trophy running back Mark Ingram, just as important to the Crimson Tide is the additional season debut of defensive end Marcell Dareus.
"He's one of the guys who's first in the film room and last off the field," sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "He's ready to get back in action."
Dareus, listed on the preseason watch list for four national awards _ Bednarik (defensive player), Ted Hendricks (defensive end), Rotary Lombardi (lineman), and the Bronko Nagurski (defensive player) _ was suspended two games for receiving an improper benefit.
Last season he made 33 tackles, nine for a loss and a team-high 6½ sacks. Dareus also made the hit to knock Texas quarterback Colt McCoy out of the BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl and returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown in the closing seconds of the first half.
"It's going to help a lot," nose tackle Josh Chapman said. "Marcell brings a lot of enthusiasm.
"He knows how to get it, I'll put it like that."
A much tougher question for his teammates is trying to choose which Dareus is better at, stopping the run or pass-rushing.
"I can't draw a line on that one," Hightower said. "As soon the ball is snapped he's back there with the quarterback regardless of it's a handoff or a pass. It's kind of hard with Marcell (to pick), he's a great run-stopper, one of the better ones I think, and as a pass-rusher he's unbelievable, to see a guy move the way he does to be that size."
Ingram led the running back through drills at practice for the third straight day.
"He's practiced all week and taken reps," Saban said during the weekly SEC coaches' conference call. "Running fast, cutting good and he's good to go."
Hightower can vouch for that.
"I only went against Mark only once today, and you would think a guy coming off surgery would come back and would lose a cut or something like that," the linebacker said. "He kind of left me hanging, he kind of shook me a little bit and gashed me for about 20 yards so I sort of got in trouble for that.
"He looks great."
Senior left tackle James Carpenter (sprain), junior linebacker Courtney Upshaw (sprain) and junior linebacker Chris Jordan (shoulder) continue to progress and do more during practice. Of the three, Upshaw appears least likely to start.
He sustained the injury against San Jose State, and briefly played against Penn State, but the constant pushing off to pass-rush may still be giving him problems.
Redshirt freshman Ed Stinson was lined up ahead of him at Jack during individual drills, freshman linebacker C.J. Mosley might get more playing time in the dime formation while junior tackle Alfred McCullough will back up Carpenter.
Junior defensive back DeQuan Menzie returned to practice after having a stomach bug Tuesday, which has hit some other players as well. He worked at the star position in dime coverage, while true freshman cornerback DeMarcus Milliner hasn't had any more problems with his pulled hamstring.
"I know a couple of players had it and spread it around, but I'm fine," Menzie said.
The Tide practiced in pads inside the Hank Crisp Facility. The team will hold a final practice Thursday and walkthrough Friday before heading to Durham, N.C. The forecast for Saturday is sunny with a high of 88 degrees.
Saban on this week's priority: "What we've been trying to emphasize is that if you're going to be a high-functioning program that there are certain things that you have to do and that will create the right habits for you to be consistent as a player. That's what will give you an advantage when you compete in the game."
Former tight end/fullback Mike Marrow has decided to transfer to Eastern Michigan.
The Durham Bulls minor-league baseball team will hold a Crimson Tide tailgate party Friday night before their game against the Columbus Clippers. Tickets, which include an all-you-can-eat-buffet and get you into the game are $20. Order online or call (919) 956-BULL.