Alabama's backfield remains in good hands
TUSCALOOSA ,Ala. (AP) - T.J. Yeldon's Alabama teammates weren't surprised by the freshman's praiseworthy debut for the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
Tight end Michael Williams said he realized Yeldon was special in his first spring practice. Center Barrett Jones believes he might claim the title of Alabama's "next great running back'' and knows he's not alone in that regard.
With starter Eddie Lacy limited by a gimpy ankle, Yeldon was the star of a running game that spread the carries four ways in an opening win over Michigan.
He broke tackles, sometimes several, on a number of his 11 carries, gained 111 yards and had a 26-yard catch. Jalston Fowler and Lacy also showed some brawn in a backfield that clearly is in good hands even with the departure of Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson going into Saturday's visit by Western Kentucky.
Yeldon was the star of the show, just like he was in earning MVP honors during the spring game after enrolling in January.
"Honestly, we weren't surprised,'' Jones said. "We had been seeing that out of him for a long time. I don't think it's a secret that he might be the next one kind of in line to take over that title of our great running back. We feel good about the future with him.''
The present appears pretty strong too, for both Yeldon and `Bama's backfield. Tide coach Nick Saban said he didn't decide to start Lacy (36 yards, one touchdown) until the junior tested his ankle before the game. Yeldon would have taken his place.
"We had total faith, trust and confidence in T.J.,'' Saban said. "If Eddie couldn't have gone, T.J. was going to start. Eddie played well in pre-game and in practice for two or three days, so we played Eddie.''
Lacy also thrived as Richardson's backup last season and has averaged 7.1 yards a carry the past two seasons. However, he was limited the past two weeks of preseason camp by the ankle injury.
Yeldon proved a capable understudy, as Williams quickly figured out in the spring.
"We saw he had the hips, he had the speed, he had the agility to make big plays in this league,'' Williams said. "And we saw (Saturday) night he got off to a good start and we're looking forward to him doing that the rest of the year.''
It's a deep position for Alabama. The bruising Fowler gained 67 yards on eight carries. Dee Hart was one of the nation's top running back prospects in 2011 before missing his freshman season with a knee injury. All told, the Tide racked up 232 yards on the ground.
Yeldon broke several arm tackles on a 40-yard run against Michigan.
That's when Alabama guard Anthony Steen said teammates felt sure they had another backfield star in the making.
"When we got in the huddle, we all were smiling,'' Steen said, "and we knew what was about to happen.''
Yeldon also showed patience and vision before darting through holes, besides the physical attributes.
At the least, there's the promise of another formidable tailback duo following in the footsteps of Richardson-Mark Ingram and Richardson-Lacy.
Yeldon was Alabama's Mr. Football and one of the nation's top recruits. He flipped his verbal commitment from Tide rival Auburn last December.
"Hopefully we'll get Eddie more and more healthy and he and T.J. can continue to maybe develop into a really good tandem with some other guys being able to contribute to that as well,'' Saban said.
Western Kentucky defensive coordinator Lance Guidry said Yeldon "is the best one'' among Alabama's tailbacks.
"Not to short any of the other guys but I think he's really explosive,'' Guidry said.
The backs' success allowed quarterback AJ McCarron to have some success on the play-action passes.
"You can tell there's a little more play action in the future,'' Williams said.
AP Sports Writer Gary Graves in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this report.