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December 29, 2013
Can Yeldon step into leadership role?
NEW ORLEANS | He'd rather have been almost anywhere in the world Sunday morning than at a podium, microphone inches from his face, recorders dancing in front of him, reporters huddled around.
Quite simply, T.J. Yeldon hates doing interviews, hates the spotlight. Always has.
Thus he finds himself in a conundrum, the second-most recognizable offensive player on the highest profile football team in the country.
By design, an appearance in the interview room for Yeldon was rare in 2013. Yet even he recognizes he may be asked to be more vocal, needed to be more out front next season as the team moves on without the face of the offense, AJ McCarron.
"I don't look forward to it," Yeldon said. "If it happens it happens. I'm not really like a guy to be the face of the team. I'm just not that type of guy, but if it happens to be that way I just have to step up and take the role."
Is Yeldon ready to be the leader for Alabama's offense?
On the field? Undoubtedly.
His first two seasons have been nearly identical, rushing for a combined 2,271 yards with 25 touchdowns and averaging 6.2 yards a carry.
Off the field and in the locker room? He'll have to transition into that role, teammates say.
"We've got to try to get him to talk more, step up and be in a little bit more of a leadership role," McCarron said. "He's an unbelievable back. He's done a lot for us in two years of playing with us. I have no doubt in him that he'll step his play up next year and have to grow into more being a leader. I'll definitely stay in touch with him and try and help him as much as possible.
"T.J. just kind of goes with the flow. Doesn't ever really tell anybody what to do or get on to them, so I'll try to teach him as much as possible."
Sometimes leadership takes time to develop. Former All-American linebacker Rolando McClain was never a vocal presence, but he became one after Nick Saban told him the team needed him. It could be similar with Yeldon.
"The thing about T.J. is he doesn't do a lot of talking," Cyrus Kouandjio said. "He's a little camera shy. All he wants to do is be dominant. That's all that's on his mind is dominate."
He's never been one to make too much of a big run or to celebrate after a touchdown. It's just not his way. He lets his play do the talking.
To take the next step in his evolution from contributor to leader he needn't look far for an example. C.J. Mosley spent much of his four years as an introverted guy off the field. But on the field he had everyone's respect. It was only during his senior year that Mosley showed flashes of a fiery competitive character and a stand-up leader in the locker room that resonated with his teammates, including Yeldon.
"C.J.'s a guy I look to," he said. "I know he plays on the defensive side, but he always has a motor. He's always going hard every play. He never takes a play off. He's just a good guy. I just look up to him a lot."
The physical gifts are easy to spot. Running backs don't often come in packages 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, and his speed and vision add to his power running style. It helped make him a first-team All-SEC coaches selection.
His freshman season he was the complement to Eddie Lacy. In 2013 he showed what he learned during his apprenticeship, rushing for 1,163 yards and 13 scores in the follow up to a sensational rookie campaign.
But it's the production you don't easily notice that's taken his play to the next level.
"...one of the things that people see when you talk about the running back position is they see what the player does with the ball in his hands, but there's so much more to playing the position," UA offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. "I think T.J. has really grown in that aspect, his attention to detail and protections, his understanding of the overall scheme, the blocking schemes and how we're doing things up front to create holes for him. He's really grown in that way this season."
If he can take the next level to be an offensive leader is the question. Yeldon is a man of few words. Will necessity force him to come out of his shell? Time will tell.
"I think he can," Kevin Norwood said. "It's just all about maturing. One day it'll hit him. You gotta mature. You gotta become a leader for this team. It's going to hit him. I hope it doesn't hit him hard, but it's going to hit him."
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.