College football is a marathon. The weekly grind wears on even the stoutest hearts, and the bumps and bruises often won’t be fully healed before the next game. Nagging injuries fall under the same category but are an order of magnitude worse. They sap performance and take away snaps in both practice and games. Alabama running back TJ Yeldon has been battling injuries since early in the season but appears to be back at full strength heading into Thursday’s Sugar Bowl.
Yeldon’s ankle has been the primary concern of many people surrounding the Crimson Tide program. He missed stretches of games thanks to the injury. The sophomore from Daphne, Ala., felt that the trouble with his ankle affected his explosiveness the most. Even when he was in the game, there were points where the injury was obvious. Planting his foot in the ground and erupting through a crease was a painful experience.
Naturally, that troublesome ankle has virtually had its own podium during the days before the Sugar Bowl. On Monday, Yeldon said, “It (the ankle) feels good. I’ve been rehabbing it a bit. I just got back to practice last week, and I’m still getting used to it.” He added in another response that he will be ready for the game.
In interviews since his first media availability, TJ Yeldon has consistently reaffirmed that his ankle, as well as other injuries, has been helped immensely by the break between the SEC Championship Game and the Sugar Bowl. He also received a vote of confidence from Nick Saban when Saban said, “He’s been able to practice each and every day we’ve been here, and he’s looked better and better each day. It will probably be a gametime decision, but we’re very hopeful that he’ll be able to make a contribution in this game.”
What does a healthy TJ Yeldon mean? TJ’s running style is a patient slasher. He will wait for a hole to open up, almost to his detriment, and then go for it as hard as possible. Yeldon admitted that the part of his game that has grown the most in 2014 is his ability to read and set up blocks. The ankle being fully healed will let him get to the hole and slash through for a bigger gain, as opposed to being a crucial half step slow. In many cases, the difference between a big gain and a tackle for loss can be boiled down to a half step.
Yeldon’s availability only helps his fellow running backs. CBS commentator Spencer Tillman called Derrick Henry “Mr. Sandman” after icing both the Iron Bowl and SEC Championship with punishing fourth quarter runs. Henry was able to do that because Yeldon, among others, wore down the opposing defense. The tired defenders either couldn’t close off Henry’s hole, or couldn’t bring down the runaway freight train that is Henry with a head of steam. A healthy Yeldon only exacerbates this tendency that has coalesced over the past few games.
A healthy TJ Yeldon promises to be a terror for Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. For the first time since the beginning of the season, the former five-star will be almost completely healthy and ready to roll down the field in the Superdome.