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Blue Chip Down: Dee Hart’s torn ACL leaves loaded ‘Bama backfield with one less bullet

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Yes, Alabama fans were bracing for this after rumors began to fly on Tuesday night. And yes, regardless of the intense hype that accompanied his arrival on campus in January, we are talking about a true freshman likely to begin the season as a third-stringer. It still doesn't make this afternoon's confirmation that five-star tailback Dee Hart is likely out for the entire 2011 season any easier to swallow:

TUSCALOOSA | Talented freshman running back Dee Hart sustained a knee injury Tuesday, a source close to Hart told TideSports.com.

The injury was also confirmed by Hart's former position coach at Orlando Dr. Phillips High School, Riki Smith, who said the freshman tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

"He's good, you know Dee," Smith told the Orlando Sentinel. "If that had to happen to any of our kids, that's who I'd rather it happened to because he has the right mindset. The trainer told him 'ok, you have surgery on Thursday and can start rehab next week' and Dee said 'what about Friday?'"

Hart is slated for surgery on Thursday morning; as his old coach suggests, he'll start rehab on Friday if all goes according to plan. But he won't see the field this fall, which was certainly part of the plan after his spectacular prep career and solid debut in spring practice.

Obviously, Alabama is not hurting for running backs.{YSP:MORE} Even with Mark Ingram gone to the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the draft, 'Bama brings back another massively hyped Florida product, Trent Richardson, who's being floated as a Heisman frontrunner in his own right with two years in the system and a full-time workload for the first time. His backup, Eddie Lacy, averaged 7.3 yards per carry with six touchdowns in the third-string role as a redshirt freshman, including a 62-yard sprint to finish off what was left of Michigan State in the bowl game. Another coveted member of the incoming signing class, Brent Calloway, joins the fray next month.

Still, on a depth chart full of between-the-tackles thumpers — Richardson, Lacy and Calloway are all in the 220-pound range, and sophomore Jalston Fowler is even bigger — the shifty, 5-foot-9, 187-pound Hart figured to bring an entirely different element as a both a receiver out of the backfield (he added over 1,000 yards receiving to his prolific rushing stats as a high school senior) and a kick returner. Not that Trent Richardson can't do all of that, too; he has 39 catches over two years and took a kickoff to the house last year as the primary kick returner. But if Richardson is set for the Mark Ingram role in the ambitious re-staging of the Tide's 2009 national championship run, Hart's absence also means there's one less candidate for the essential supporting role Richardson played that year on his way up.

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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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