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April 14, 2012TUSCALOOSA | Spring is the time when things bloom. T.J. Yeldon has only been on campus at the University of Alabama for about three months, but the freshman from Daphne certainly grasps that concept.
The 6-foot-2, 216-pound running back showed an A-Day crowd of 78,526 on Saturday that he has the ability to blossom into something special, winning the Dixie Howell Most Valuable Player Award by running for 88 yards and adding 91 receiving yards and a touchdown in his Crimson Tide debut.
Playing for the White team - with the second-team offense against the Crimson squad's second-string defense - Yeldon showed the power to run between the tackles and the speed to burst to the edges. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry, with a long run of 20 yards, and shook off a tackle to turn a short pass into a 50-yard touchdown.
UA coach Nick Saban was not surprised.
"T.J. did a good job in all the scrimmages, and he was the difference in the game for his team, and made a lot of good plays today and had a lot of production," Saban said.
Yeldon arrived at Alabama with state Mr. Football credentials and was the Alabama team's Most Valuable Player in the Alabama-Mississippi all-star game. He committed to Auburn and switched to UA last December, late in the recruiting process. He graduated early from Daphne High School and enrolled at Alabama in January.
It didn't take him long to make an impression once spring practice started.
UA media rules prohibit Yeldon from talking to the press until he's been on campus for a year, but his teammates speak loudly in his favor.
"He's a hard runner, a very smart running back," quarterback AJ McCarron said.
Added safety Vinnie Sunseri, "He's just so powerful and strong. He showed that he has a little bit of quickness, too, getting out in front of everybody."
Barrett Jones, Alabama's senior offensive lineman, has seen guys such as Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Doak Walker Award winner Trent Richardson develop into big-time running backs. He likes what he sees in Yeldon.
"He's good," Jones said. "He's definitely very, very talented, and we have high hopes for him."
Where Yeldon will fit into Alabama's running rotation in the fall will depend in some part on the continuing recovery of Eddie Lacy, who spent the last two seasons as the understudy to Ingram and Richardson. Lacy had surgery after the season after hobbling through 2011 with a turf toe condition, and sat out the A-Day Game.
Saban was pleased to see Yeldon emerge in the spring game and has plans for the running back.
"I think that's important for us because we needed somebody like that," Saban said. "T.J. is one of those guys who can do everything - he's a good runner, he's got some power, he's got some speed, he's a really good receiver. Hopefully, he'll continue to mature and have a pretty significant role in helping our offense next year."
For all his promise, Yeldon is still just a freshman. And this performance was in a spring game, not in a real game.
"You can play this ball, but it's different when the lights come on and you play LSU or South Carolina, whoever we've got," McCarron said, "but we're definitely going to get the chance to see him."
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.