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Alabama's Trent Richardson takes center stage in Ingram's absence

Trent Richardson isn't new to the spotlight.

Top-ranked Alabama's new starting tailback was among the country's top recruits last year, a star in the BCS championship game and a key presence in Alabama's backfield during the national title run.

But the stakes have gone up for Richardson in the past few days. Now he's taking over for Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, at least in Saturday night's opener against San Jose State. Ingram injured his left knee in practice five days before the game.

His recovery time, coach Nick Saban said, figures to be "relatively short" — though what exactly that means is to be determined. For now it's Richardson's turn and his presence helped ease the concerns following Ingram's injury.

"Everyone's got to (step up), but we're going to have the same roles," said Richardson, who was already set to take over kick return duties. "He's a great player, but I've been working all summer, all spring, and I know (Demetrius) Goode is ready too. We all need to be ready. We have to step up and play our roles."

Richardson was to play a prominent role, anyway.

Some fans and media members even figured Richardson was the player with the best chance of keeping Ingram from a repeat Heisman, simply by taking some of his carries.

Richardson did gain 109 yards against Texas in the title game; Ingram had 116. The freshman sprinted between the tackles for a 49-yard touchdown.

And he announced his arrival early last season with a 118-yard effort against Florida International in the second game when Ingram was injured. Two weeks later, he caused a stir by breaking five tackles — two behind the line — en route to a 52-yard touchdown against Arkansas. That outdistanced Ingram's total yards on 17 carries against the Razorbacks.

Richardson joined Ingram as a preseason first-team All-SEC pick. Ingram hasn't seemed to mind the buzz around Richardson; in fact, he encouraged it.

"I think he should be preseason All-SEC, All-American, All-Everything on every award, because he's a great player," Ingram said during preseason camp. "He's explosive. He's dynamic. He's getting smarter as a student of the game every day."

Richardson has shown a flair for the dramatic since waiting until late afternoon on national signing day to announce he was choosing Alabama. He was rated the No. 6 overall prospect by two national recruiting services.

He has tattoos of Bible verses on each arm. Including, on his right, Phillipians 4:13: "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Richardson sports dreadlocks while Ingram has short hair, so it's easy to tell who is lined up in the backfield.

The back of his arm says "Living Legend."

Well, not yet, Trent.

But the performance in Pasadena, Calif., helped him along the way.

"I got a lot of attention from that game," he said early in fall camp. "It's hard to go into the mall and go into WalMart and stuff like that, but I love it. It's who I am now. I love playing football, and they love me for what I do.

"And I love bringing a championship to Alabama."

Richardson's showcase opportunity would get substantially bigger if Ingram is unable to return for the second game. That's when the Tide hosts No. 19 Penn State.

This first game isn't even televised except on pay-per-view. Richardson's teammates certainly are comfortable with his ability to step in.

"It shows a great deal what our coaching staff has done in recruiting, and what we've been doing to sell this program to recruits," center William Vlachos said. "We're extremely fortunate that for Mark to go down — the heart and soul of our offense (who) won the Heisman Trophy last year because he's the best player in college football — we're fortunate to have guys like that behind him."

If there's not a huge drop-off with Richardson taking over as the primary ball carrier, it does leave untested backups in redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy and the junior Goode. Goode has run for 132 yards in his career but had a season-ending knee injury early in 2007. Freshman Corey Grant was a two-time Alabama 100-meter state champion in high school.

Saban wants his players focusing on their chance to step in, not the loss of Ingram. He also doesn't plan an overhaul of the offense.

"We really want to support Mark and help him every way that we can. It's unfortunate that he got injured and he's going to miss the opener, but at the same time it creates opportunities for other people," Saban said.

"We've been practicing what we do all camp. I don't think right now would be the time to change it."