T.J. Yeldon Is Different, but He's Kept Up Tradition of Physical Alabama RBs

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterNovember 14, 2013

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One stud running back leaves early, another steps in.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

That's been the formula for Alabama's current college football dynasty, in which the Crimson Tide have won three of the last four BCS national championships.

While the names have changed—Glen Coffee gave way to Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy to T.J. Yeldon—the productivity has stayed the same. The No. 1 running back in Tuscaloosa has averaged more than 5.5 yards per carry every season since 2008—Nick Saban's second year in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama Leading Rushers Under Nick Saban
2007Terry Grant18089184.95
2008Glen Coffee2331,383105.94
2009Mark Ingram2711,658176.12
2010Mark Ingram158875135.54
2011Trent Richardson2831,679215.93
2012Eddie Lacy2041,322176.48
2013T.J. Yeldon140862126.16

But the newest feature back is different than the others.

T.J. Yeldon has the body style of his predecessors. The 6'2", 218-pounder has the size and durability to take the punishment between the tackles. But his running style is much different than that of the other great running backs of the recent Tide title run.

He's patient, but with a lightning-quick first step.

That's a perfect fit for Alabama's zone-blocking scheme, which CBS analyst Gary Danielson, during the broadcast of the Crimson Tide's 38-17 win over LSU, said Alabama was doing more of this season.

In that game, Yeldon rushed 25 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns—both of which came in the second half on long, sustained drives in which he had 14 total carries.

It's pretty clear who the top player on Alabama's offense is, as CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman notes.

AJ's a very good QB but watching this and feeling like T.J. Yeldon's the best player on the #Bama O.

—Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) November 10, 2013


When a hole opens up, Yeldon sees it, reacts and is to the second level before the defense knows what hit it.

On top of that, he's the most elusive of the every-down backs that have come through Tuscaloosa. Ingram, Richardson and Lacy were great combinations of speed and power but certainly better-suited as bruisers who can break it open after contact.

Yeldon can play that game, but his quick first step gets him up on tacklers in a hurry, often times when they're out of position. As a result, you see defenders bounce off him like he's got cooking spray on his jersey.

Yeldon is quick, versatile and slippery, which makes him a home run threat. But he handles the closer responsibilities of the previous greats when toting the rock.

Of his 862 yards on the season, 483 of them have come in the second halves of games. That's 56 percent of his production coming after halftime, which has come on 10 fewer carries than what he has gotten in the first half.

There have been some great running backs that have come through Tuscaloosa during the Saban era, but Yeldon may be the best of the bunch.

Before all is said and done, don't be surprised if Yeldon finds his way to New York City as a Heisman Trophy finalist.





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