Cooper, Yeldon Typify Tide Plan

Amari Cooper brought chuckles from reporters and anguish from his media relations handler during a spring practice interview when Cooper casually mentioned being at Alabama "for three years."

No one doubts it is true. Shortly after Nick Saban became head coach at Alabama, there was a rare opportunity for sportswriters to talk to members of his coaching staff. One of them noted that they would be recruiting players they expected to play at Bama for only three years before those players departed for the NFL.

That has proved to be a good plan. Sure, the Crimson Tide has lost some very fine players early – Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Rolando McClain, Dont'a Hightower, et al. This year's pro draft took three Bama players in the first round, two of them (Dee Milliner and D.J. Fluker) who had eligibility remaining.

No one seems bothered by it. The Saban plan is as promised – good players who leave for pro football when they are ready. They go with Saban's blessing.

For the most part, the Saban process is to recruit top high school players. That's not to say that a junior college transfer can't help. Bama might not have won the 2009 national championship if Terrence Cody hadn't blocked a couple of Tennessee field goal attempts, including one on the final play of the game.

There is, however, a coaching school of thought that the first thing that must be done with junior college transfers is to get them to "unlearn" bad habits.

Jackie Sherrill built a respectable program at Mississippi State with junior college transfers, and the Southeastern Conference has had some outstanding jucos over the years. Auburn won a national championship with its procurement of Cam Newton for one semester.

Nevertheless, the perception (if not reality) is that the junior college route is stopgap at best, desperation at worst; most would say the most stable programs succeed by attracting outstanding prospects from high school. Three or four years beats one or two.

Alabama followers no doubt are prepared to have two outstanding freshmen from the 2012 national championship team for only three years (the time high school graduates must wait before opting for the NFL draft).

Wide receiver Amari Cooper has already spilled the beans. Expect him to be joined in the 2015 NFL draft by Tide tailback T.J. Yeldon.

Both were Alabama record-setters and both Freshman All-America in their first season with Bama.

Cooper broke the Alabama school record (not freshman record) for touchdown receptions in a season with 11. He had two touchdown receptions in the national championship game win over Notre Dame and his 45-yard TD catch with 3:15 to play provided the winning margin in Bama's SEC Championship Game win over Georgia.

Cooper, a 6-1, 202-pounder from Miami, broke the freshman records of Julio Jones with 59 receptions for 1,000 yards. He was a back-up in the first five games of the year, a starter in the final nine.

Yeldon, a 6-2, 218-pound Daphne native, produced the best season by a freshman running back in the history of Alabama football. Although he was a back-up to Eddie Lacy in all 14 Bama games, Yeldon had 175 rushes for 1,109 yards (6.3 yards per play) and 12 touchdowns. Tide followers will also remember that Yeldon was sometimes used as a receiver (11 catches for 131 yards). His longest reception play was a 28-yard effort on a screen pass that came with 51 seconds to play at LSU and provided the winning points in a stirring 21-17 come-from-behind Bama victory.

Yeldon rushed for 153 yards in the SEC Championship Game win over Georgia and 108 yards in the BCS National Cham;pionship Game victory over Notre Dame.

So how did Cooper and Yeldon compare with the 2008 freshman wide receiver-running back combo, Julio Jones-Mark Ingram? Jones had 58 receptions for 924 yards and four touchdowns, Ingram 143 runs for 728 yards and 12 TDs.

Go way, way back to what many consider the previous best freshman combo. In the wishbone offense of 1974, Hall of Fame receiver Ozzie Newsome had 20 catches for 374 yards and one touchdown and fullback Johnny Davis 23 carries for 100 yards.

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