Uncertainty sprang pleasant surprises for defending national champion Alabama. True freshman running back T.J. Yeldon wowed 78,000-plus fans at A-Day with overall game at his position, like what the Crimson Tide just lost when Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson went pro.
There’s still the matter of five Tide players replacing departed All-Americans on defense, and Alabama’s defense still has a lot of gelling to do.
Auburn, coming off an 8-5 season with two new coordinators, served up all kinds of uncertainty, and it only worsened as injuries thinned out the Tigers’ defense. With so many players missing so many spring reps, one wonders how much progress new defensive coordinator Brain VanGorder could make installing his system.
And how to gauge anything Auburn’s offense did in Saturday’s A-Day game, considering the depleted opposition?
Much the same for Jacksonville State, which shared the Ohio Valley Conference championship but missed the playoffs in 2011. The Gamecocks played Friday’s J-Day game without quarterbacks Marques Ivory and Coty Blanchard along with several other regulars.
There’s an upside in so many younger players getting unexpected reps, but the reward likely comes beyond the next season. So, file spring practice under “I” --- for “it is what it is.”
Alabama: T.J.’s big day
The rich just keep getting richer.
Yeldon’s 88 yards rushing and 91 receiving showed his versatility, which Alabama had in Richardson. Then came this quote from Alabama coach Nick Saban, who doesn’t normally gush so.
“T.J. did a good job in all the scrimmages. He made the difference for his team,” he said. “He made a lot of good plays today and had a lot of production.
“I think that's important for us because we needed someone like that. He has a really good opportunity. Eddie (Lacy) will hopefully be able to come back. Jalston (Fowler) can do certain things. Dee Hart can do certain things.
“T.J. is one of those guys who can do everything.”
And to think, Yeldon, an early enrollee, is less than six months removed from his last high school game. His late commitment switch from Auburn to Alabama in December was felt all over the state Saturday.
Auburn: Speaking of tailbacks
Part of the reason Yeldon’s switch was felt throughout the state Saturday was that none of Auburn’s tailbacks showed his kind of game.
The Tigers are looking to replaced two-time thousand-yard rusher Michael Dyer, who transferred for Arkansas State. They have Florida transfer Mike Blakely, Alabama transfer Corey Grant, sophomore Tre Mason, who filled in for Dyer in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and misdirection speed guy Onterio McCalebb.
By far, Blakely had the best game Saturday with 65 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown run, but one senses disfavor from the coaching staff. Auburn coach Gene Chizik went out of his way to tout Blakely’s inconsistency, making Blakely’s A-Day performance sound like an aberration.
If Auburn’s move to revive physical, running football is to succeed, the Tigers need strength at tailback. A-Day, the one spring scrimmage that occurred before outside eyes, left things uncertain that way.
JSU: The futures game
If one narrows spring practice down to things that will matter come the most immediate fall, then what to take from JSU’s camp?
They shut down Ivory when swelling developed on the ankle he broke in last season’s opener. What does that say about his long-term recovery?
There was no Blanchard, who is playing baseball, and there’s the possibility that he could decide to concentrate on baseball. What does that say about JSU’s future at quarterback?
Steven Coates performed well at J-Day, throwing for 216 yards and three scores, but anything that happened Friday comes with a caution tag. It was a game with a lot of missing players.
JSU is a team with immediate needs, having lost 11 of the probable starters listed for the 2011 finale against Tennessee State. That includes six on defense.
The Gamecocks could lose a 12th starter, if Blanchard doesn’t come back.
How much got accomplished this spring toward the immediate needs? Uncertain.