Crimson Tide Football: All You Need to Know About Alabama's Freshman Superstar
The Alabama running back factory continues to produce top-notch players, including Heisman winner Mark Ingram and first round 2012 NFL draft pick Trent Richardson.
Now meet the next potential superstar Crimson Tide back—true freshman T.J. Yeldon.
Just about every SEC team worth its salt fought over Yeldon, including Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and LSU. Teams as far away as Oregon and USC also climbed all over themselves in an effort to woo Yeldon away from his home state of Alabama.
Instead, Yeldon spurned them all to stay close to home.
But not at the in-state school he originally planned to attend.
After committing to play for the Auburn Tigers, Yeldon had a change of heart and decided to play for the Crimson Tide instead. This, of course, added even more fuel to one of college football’s hottest and most prestigious rivalries.
After all, the winner of this rivalry has gone on to win the national championship the last three years in a row.
There’s little wonder why all of these schools fought over Yeldon. He's an explosive back with a 4.43 40-yard dash time.
To put that into perspective, Trent Richardson's 40 time at Alabama's pro day was between 4.45 and 4.49.
If that wasn't enough, Yeldon roars to top speed quickly, allowing him to charge through holes and leave poor defensive backs in his dust.
At 6'3", he has some room to add to his 216-pound frame to become a power running back, and in the SEC, he's going to need it.
Yeldon dominated his senior year at Daphne High School with 2,136 yards and 32 touchdowns using a fairly similar offensive scheme as Alabama. He reigns as the 2011 Mr. Football Alabama and destroyed his competition in the 2011 Alabama vs. Mississippi All-Star Game by gaining 116 yards and three touchdowns, also earning MVP honors.
It is no surprise that he was the No. 3 running back and No. 24 player overall in the 2011 Rivals100. Scouts all over the nation were drooling over his speed as well as his ability to sneak out of the backfield and catch the ball on a wheel route or a halfback screen.
No wonder Alabama is so excited to have him.
How T.J. Yeldon Fits In At Alabama
Fortunately for Yeldon, Alabama primarily employs a pro-style, single-back offense. Yeldon is already familiar with aspects of this offense as Daphne High used a version of it.
In essence, this offense trades a fullback for an extra tight end or a wide receiver. This encourages a balance between the passing and running games and the quarterback gets an extra option to throw to. The single running back gets an extra blocker on the line of scrimmage.
And it’s not as if Alabama doesn’t have one of the most intimidating offensive lines in college football already.
Having that extra blocker on the line benefits speedy backs like Yeldon as that extra man can open holes at the line of scrimmage that might not be there otherwise. In addition, tight ends, offensive linemen and even wide receivers can run down field and set up blocks without having to worry about the amount of big men on the line handling the defense.
As long as Yeldon can get through that initial hole using a combination of speed and power, the extra one or two blockers downfield can turn a good run into a fantastic one.
Not only that, this offense is great for an HB like Yeldon who can catch the ball. Having that extra wide receiver or tight end on the field means that there's one less defender available to cover a running back tiptoeing out of the backfield.
Let’s examine some of the typical plays T.J. Yeldon will be called upon to execute using Trent Richardson as inspiration. As a balanced back with excellent vision, Richardson is the perfect example of a running back in this system.
This first play comes from the 2010 Penn State at Alabama game. Here, Trent Richardson takes a run up the gut of the Penn State defense. Tight end Preston Dial is lined up on the right side of the line. Penn State recognizes the tight end and sends a linebacker blitz in that direction.
But Richardson is headed left instead of right, and receiver Julio Jones is the key blocker.
First, Richardson runs between the LT and LG and powers through the defensive line while also getting out of there just quick enough to avoid Penn State linebackers in the backfield. Meanwhile, OL Barrett Jones and Allen Skelton release their blocks at their RG and RT positions and get upfield to further clear the way for Richardson.
In addition, Julio Jones seals LB Bani Gbadyu and allows Richardson to cut toward the sideline and bust free.
This buys Richardson an extra few yards and at the end of this play, he drags a few Penn State defenders along to top off a respectable 15-yard gain.
Yeldon already has the speed to pull of a play like this. What he currently lacks is the pure muscle needed to power through as necessary, but again—there's plenty of room on that 6'2" frame.
Here’s another example of how the Crimson Tide will use Yeldon. He has already shown that he has great hands for catching the ball. Here’s an example of an HB screen using Trent Richardson during that same Alabama vs. Penn State game.
Here, three Penn State defenders fall hook, line and sinker for the screen and run by Richardson and straight for QB Greg McElroy. Both the RT and RG release and Richardson runs up to the line under the pretense of blocking. Now, you have three Penn State defenders thinking that they're about to make a sack.
They thought wrong.
Trent Richardson simply turns around and makes the catch right on time. Now, three Penn State defenders are caught in the backfield while Richardson has nothing but two blockers and a lot of green grass ahead of him to pick up an easy 30-yard gain.
Yeldon showed off his receiving ability in the Alabama A-Day Game as he caught five passes, including a 50-yard touchdown. Don't be surprised if the Crimson Tide use him often in situations like this as early as this year.
Adjustments T.J. Yeldon Needs to Make at Next Level
One of the first things that Yeldon has been doing is bulking up. He was 205 pounds in high school, but that’s not quite going to work in college ball, especially in the SEC. He’s now 216 pounds, but he probably needs to gain a bit more so that he can truly fit in Alabama’s power running game.
For comparison, Richardson was 224 pounds his junior year at Alabama, and all of that was pure muscle. So, Yeldon will want to shoot for something similar to that.
Yeldon’s also going to need to adapt to not being the top dog for a while. Barring injury or a complete meltdown, Eddie Lacy is going to be the top RB in 2012. That can sometimes be hard on a young man’s ego after receiving so much acclaim in high school, not to mention the hype he’s gotten already at Alabama thanks to his terrific A-Day Game performance.
But if Yeldon can put ego aside and learn from Lacy and the Alabama coaching staff, he’ll be that much more dangerous when it’s his turn to rise to the top.
Prediction for First Season at the College Level
Some over-excited Alabama fans expect Yeldon to walk onto the field and compete for a Heisman right away, but that just isn’t going to happen.
I doubt that he’ll rise to the top of the Crimson Tide’s depth chart by the end of year one. Alabama already has a,solid veteran in Eddie Lacy and he should get the majority of the carries in 2012.
Besides, Yeldon isn't the only backup RB on the roster. As things stand now, junior Jalston Fowler will be Lacy's primary backup.
That being said, I do expect Yeldon to get some quality playing time. Yeldon is better at catching the ball than Fowler is, and Yeldon might even give Lacy a run for his money in that department. I expect him to get a little action on HB screens or wheel routes.
However, most of Yeldon's playing time will come on special teams and in blowout situations this season.
I expect him to have about 50 carries for 350 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2012. In addition, he'll probably pick up 7 receptions for 100 yards that includes one long (40 yards or more) pass for a touchdown.
How quickly Yeldon rises to the top of the depth chart will depend on whether or not Eddie Lacy and/or Jalston Fowler decide to stick around for their senior season. I expect Lacy to leave after the 2012 season, particularly if he plays well enough this year to be a first round draft pick like Trent Richardson or Mark Ingram.
I can't really say the same for Fowler, so I expect a fight for the top spot between Yeldon and Fowler in 2013. Yeldon may even win the top spot for himself next season, but more likely Alabama will use a combination of both Yeldon and Fowler that year.
So realistically, Yeldon's day in the spotlight will likely come in 2014.
He will be the Crimson Tide’s future and he has the talent to be a Heisman-level running back. He just needs some time to adapt to learn, mature and become what everyone in Tuscaloosa hopes he’ll be.
So in 2014, don’t be surprised to see Mr. T.J. Yeldon on everybody’s Heisman watch.
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