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FRIDAY, AUGUST 10, 2007
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Tide's Johns
makes a move

Saban says fullback is
junior's new spot

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — Alabama running back Jimmy Johns knows only one route to get through the opposing team's defensive front: Straight ahead.

Ranking second on the team last year with 293 rushing yards, Johns picked up most of his yards bulling through the offensive line and hitting the defense head-on.

This apparently caught the eye of first-year coach Nick Saban, who has decided to employ the 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior as a fullback.

It's a change for Johns, but one he appears willing to tackle ... no pun intended.

"It is an opportunity to hit people," Johns said. "That is something I like doing and something I take pride in."

This marks another turn in a perplexing year for Johns. A former Mississippi Mr. Football, Johns came to Alabama with hopes of being a dual threat as a quarterback/tailback.

While former coach Mike Shula had Johns behind center for the occasional snap, Johns never threw the ball.

He always seemed on the cusp of breaking out — last season he was also second on the team amongst running backs with 4.4 yards a carry — but couldn't wrestle the starting tailback job away from incumbent Kenneth Darby.

Maybe some off-field issues had something to do with that.

First, Johns was suspended for the Louisiana-Monroe game for violating team rules. Then he called out Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom before the Alabama's 24-16 loss against the Bulldogs. Croom and Johns had become close during recruiting, and Croom did not acknowledge Johns after the previous year's game, a 17-0 Alabama win.

Johns took slight to the non-gesture, saying Croom ran off the field like a dog with his tail between his legs.

He later apologized for his comments.

During the spring, citing an academic issue, Saban suspended Johns. Then almost out of nowhere, Johns received the "I Like to Practice Award" at the conclusion of the A-Day spring game.

"(The suspension) was just an eye-opener," Johns said. "It was just something, that stepping stone, something to learn from, grow off of. We kind of went past that. That's been taken care of. I've been punished for that."

Johns' move to fullback opens up the position for more speed-oriented runners such as Terry Grant, Roy Upchurch or Glen Coffee.

Saban said he envisions Johns as kind of a combo fullback — someone who can run, but also catch passes for small gains.

Johns only caught one pass last season for 16 yards against Tennessee.

"When you look back at the Bill Walsh 49er days, their fullback had a lot of catches," Saban said. "Maybe not for a lot of yards per catch, but a lot of positive yard gains. Jimmy can do that and can run after the catch a little bit. Has some size so he could be difficult for smaller people to tackle."

Johns could move back to tailback somewhere down the line. But Johns said he is embracing his new role. He likes the contact and there are few positions that demand more than fullback.

"I'm a winner," Johns said. "I know coach Saban is the same way. I didn't have a doubt. I didn't have a choice, really. It's all for the team. I'm all for the team — that's how we all are."

Jimmy Johns at a glance

  • Quarterbacked Brookhaven High to the Mississippi Class 4A state championship in 2004. Threw for 2,173 yards and rushed for 1,394.

  • Won state championships in the 110-meter hurdles and discus.

  • Played in every game of the 2005 season at Alabama. Only a freshman, he ranked second in rushing with 202 yards.

  • Ranked second on the 2006 team with 293 yards, including a team-high 39 yards against Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl.

  • Won the team’s “I Like to Practice Award” during 2007 spring training.

  • Moved from tailback to fullback for the 2007 season.

    Josh Cooper

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