Alabama tailback T.J. Yeldon said, “I’m starting to take a little more reps (in practice) every day. They’re just telling me to do what I can do, and to be ready to go full speed during the game. I’m good to go. I think I’ll be all right.”
Yeldon added his thoughts to the familiar mantra about a positive difference in both leadership and team chemistry in 2014 compared to last year. He said, “I feel like last year, we weren’t all together. I mean, we were together, but we weren’t really focused. This year, I feel we’re way more focused. We’re all together, and it’s like a brotherhood out there now. We all like each other, and there’s no different parts (of the team) that split up. We all just hang out with each other.”
Regarding the difference in last year’s approach to the Sugar Bowl (a loss to Oklahoma) compared to this year’s, Yeldon said, “It’s a lot of intensity, because we’re playing for the (national) championship playoffs. You beat this team, and you go on to play for the championship. We’ve got to be more focused this year, and just continue to do what we have to do to beat (Ohio State).
“That was our goal, after they switched it up (to the playoff) system; to be here, and win it. We all had a mindset that we were going to come here, and win the playoffs.”
Yeldon knows he and his teammates will have their hands full with Ohio State All-America defensive end Joey Bosa. “He’s a very good (player). He’s so big, and he’s still very young. I really hadn’t heard of him until Amari (Cooper) told me he met him at the awards thing (in Orlando last month) and how big he was, and how he filled out his whole suit. I’ve watched film on him, and he’s good. He does his technique all the time. We have to focus on him, and their whole d-line, to get us going.”
Yeldon, who has 932 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns, said he’s enjoyed watching senior quarterback Blake Sims’ storybook season as much as anyone. “It’s been fantastic watching Blake,” Yeldon said “Everybody criticized him, saying how he wasn’t going to be able to start and be a good quarterback, and he took that as motivation. Coach (Lane) Kiffin keeps him going, and he was determined to be one of the leaders on the field. He gets us going, and he gets the offense going. He does a great job doing that.”
In that vein, Sims said working with Kiffin the last 11 months has helped him elevate his game to a point that allowed him to throw for a school record 3.250 yards this year. He said his first-year offensive coordinator/quarterback coach taught him about reading defenses. How to be a leader. I think those are the two main points. (Kiffin) He did a great job coaching me very well, and he stayed on me to be the best player that I can be, to my potential, and I think everything he has done this year with me has been the right thing.”
Sims said junior All-America teammate/receiver Amari Cooper also taught him a lot in the off season, about “coverages. Like when certain corners do this, you can always know that this is going to happen. He taught me how to keep my composure at all times. He let me know that bad things are going to happen. Even the great quarterbacks in the NFL make bad plays, but you’ve got to know how to overcome them.”
But does Cooper give coverage tips to his own teammates in the Tide secondary? “I don’t like giving them tips on how to cover me,” he said “It gets real competitive in practice.”
Meanwhile, should the Buckeyes decide to double-team Cooper Thursday night, he says his fellow receivers will be ready. “I think they’ll respond great. They’re all healthy, they’ve all been preparing, and I think they’re ready to go.
“Christion (Jones), he’s always ready to play, no matter what the situation is, no matter how big the game is. Every time he gets an opportunity, he’s going to take advantage of it. When (DeAndrew White) is healthy, like all our receivers, he can be a huge weapon for us. I’m telling you, we have a lot of weapons. We have speed galore at the receiver position, and when they get the opportunity, they’re going to make something happen. (Tight end) O.J. (Howard) is a great receiver. He runs solid routes for his size. He has great hands. He’s getting better every day.”
Cooper added that the future is bright at the receiver position, despite his certain departure and the graduation of White and Jones. He said fans will enjoy watching the likes of Chris Black, Robert Foster and Cameron Sims. “I’m telling you, those guys are great. Cam Sims just made a tremendous catch in practice yesterday. Robert (Foster) is really fast, and Chris (Black) is, too. When they get the opportunity (next year), they’re going to make something happen.”
Cooper said he reached a goal on reception numbers this year when he eclipsed triple digits, a first in Alabama football history. “That was my goal: 100,” he said. “Some receivers who are really good don’t even get thrown to 100 times in a season. I know that (getting 115 catches so far) is definitely due to the changes in the offense.”
There’s very little mystery on Cooper’s future. He either has one or two games left in a crimson jersey. Regarding pro football, he said, not surprisingly due to his home town that “I grew up a Miami Dolphins fan.”
Asked about Kiffin’s viral comments on Nick Saban’s height at the Broyles Award ceremony, Cooper said he personally has not told Saban he was short, “but I’ve seen players tell him that.” Cooper said he thought Kiffin’s joke about that topic “was funny.”