Tide's Richardson takes center stage

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama senior center William Vlachos isn’t sure the Crimson Tide ever figured out what they wanted to be offensively last season.

“I think last year we didn’t quite form an identity at all or the way we wanted to form it as a power-running team,” Vlachos said. “That’s what we are and what we will be. It’s on our shoulders in the offensive line to take the reins and establish that identity.”

And along those same lines, Vlachos said there won’t be a lot of guesswork on whom the Crimson Tide’s go-to guy will be next season.

It’s Trent Richardson's show now.

“He needs to take the bull by the horns,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “He was in a tough situation, playing behind Mark [Ingram]. The first year, he probably didn’t realize it. Last year, maybe he didn’t handle it as well, but he doesn’t have that circumstance anymore.

“He’s the man.”

The 5-foot-11, 225-pound Richardson has been one of the more dynamic players in the SEC his first two seasons. You’re talking about a guy who bench-presses 500 pounds and has run a 10.5 in the 100 meters.

The only thing holding him back was the fact that he shared the backfield the past two seasons with the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner.

It’s an experience Richardson wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

“I learned so much from him, and we were the biggest cheerleaders for each other,” Richardson said. “Mark was the most humble person there is, and that takes you a long way.”

But now that Ingram is gone, Richardson is ready to take the No. 1 tailback job and run with it.

His teammates can’t wait to see just how far he goes.

“Trent is a good example of what a teammate is supposed to be,” junior offensive guard Barrett Jones said. “The last two years, he would have started anywhere else in the nation. You look at him, and this guy is a freak. You watch him work out, and he’s one of the strongest human beings I’ve ever seen. He’s ready to shoulder that load and be the guy for us.”

Richardson carried the ball just 112 times last season and 145 times as a freshman. Even though he was never 100 percent a year ago, he actually had better numbers than he did as a freshman.

He averaged 6.2 yards per carry, 63.6 yards per game and led all Alabama running backs with 23 catches. Also, he finished second in the SEC in all-purpose yards, averaging 145.4 yards per game.

While Alabama didn’t advertise it, Richardson battled through injuries all season. He tore ligaments in his foot in the opener against San Jose State and had to get a shot in his foot the rest of the season.

Then in the LSU game, Richardson tore his abdominal muscle and also sprained the MCL in his knee. He missed the next two games against Mississippi State and Georgia State, but came back and finished the season against Auburn and Michigan State.

“All it did was make me tougher,” Richardson said. “It made me want to fight each battle, especially after you watch Julio [Jones] go get a plate in his hand one day and then he’s out there the next. It was the same thing with Mark getting surgery, and he’s only out two games.”

The good news for Alabama fans is that Richardson is healthy now, and he enters his junior season with a deep sense of responsibility.

He knows exactly what the Crimson Tide lost in the way of offensive firepower with Ingram and Jones both turning pro early. And on top of it, Alabama will be breaking in a new quarterback.

He also knows that he needs to be a little bit of everything for this offense in 2011 -- the guy who can get the tough yards and move the chains and the guy who can break a defense’s back with the long runs.

The thing that’s so special about Richardson is that he does both equally well.

“I look at it now like I can’t mess up,” Richardson said. “There’s no time to get mad about a play. I have to get up and wipe it off. I feel like I’m the heartbeat of the team now. I’ve got to make sure the team’s on point and that I’m on point myself.

“If I’m down, the team’s going to be down.”