"We'll try and give him more opportunities to make some more plays," Mike Shula continued. "He'll play more and more now."
After getting a slow start, for the past two games Prothro has really come on. Three weeks ago the fleet receiver was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal performance at Ole Miss. And against Tennessee Prothro impressed with the ball in his hands and as a blocker.
"The coaches have more confidence in me now," Prothro said. "They're getting the ball to me, and I'm trying to respond."
A sprint champion in high school, Prothro is easily one of the top athletes among the freshman class. Shula talked about his early impressions. "In the back of our minds, if there was going to be a younger guy (among the receivers) that would play, it was probably going to be Tyrone. He kept getting better. Eventually we got him more reps with the upperclassmen."
Starting quarterback Brodie Croyle saw the potential from the start. "I knew Tyrone was going to be a player the first day he came out to practice," Croyle said. "He immediately started making plays, so you just knew."
Back before fall camp began the decision was made early to give Bama's six senior receivers every chance to succeed. Given the scarcity of practice time to evaluate talent and install a new offense, it made sense. Veteran athletes like Triandos Luke, Dre Fulgham, Brandon Greer, Zach Fletcher and Lance Taylor were asked to carry the early load.
"Really from about the second or third day of practice Tyrone stood out a little bit more than some of the other (true freshmen)," Shula said. "We thought going into the season that we wanted to find out about our older guys. We had to get those guys ready. We didn't know as much about Tyrone from not being here. We were going to get those older guys as ready as possible, because it was a new system."
So when did the coaches decide not to redshirt Prothro?
"It was probably after the third week of the season," Shula replied. "It was a combination of things. We had some guys injured at the time, and we moved Tyrone up from the scout team. He was doing a lot of good things. We saw some of those things in training camp. So he started getting a few more reps than normally a young guy would."
When given his chance, Prothro made the most of it. "Confidence is my big thing," he said. "Once my confidence is up, I think I can make things happen."
Prothro is obviously an excellent all-around athlete, but speed is his forte'.
"He gives us a boost; he's got some speed," Shula said. "He played a couple of games, and he finally got a chance to catch the football. He just got on the field more. He's got good speed, and he's good running after the catch. Tyrone can obviously help us win games this year and will become seasoned for next year."
Prothro's 8,099 career all-purpose yards are third-best in Alabama prep football history. In high school, Prothro was always the fastest player on the field. Most of the time he could just use his speed to outrun the defender to the corner and turn upfield for a long gainer. But in the SEC even the linemen are fast.
"It's just a matter of moving up to another level," Prothro said. "In college the players are going to be bigger and faster. You've just got to work at it. I'm adjusting to the college game. I don't think I'm playing at full speed yet, but I'm doing pretty good. Week by week I'm getting better."
In high school Prothro earned a reputation as one of the top kick-return men in the state. His 39-yard kickoff return against Tennessee at the end of the fourth quarter put the Tide in position to win the game in regulation with a field goal.
"It was just a little pooch kick," Prothro recalled. "I don't think they were expecting me to run up and get it. I think they were expecting us to call a fair catch. The coaches told us to move up some. We knew it was going to be a pooch kick. I ran up there and caught the ball and just made something happen."
Shula said Tuesday that Prothro would move up and assume one of the kickoff return slots. Prothro's receiving and kick returns were expected, but the 5-8, 173-pounder also packs a surprising punch blocking.
"I was pleasantly surprised," Shula admitted. "Tyrone had two knockdown blocks on one play--not one but two--where he knocked the defensive back off his feet. On another run he blocked the safety--put him on his back--and was then looking for another guy to block. That's not even talking about his receiving ability."
As Offensive Coordinator Dave Rader pointed out, there was no way to gauge Prothro's true blocking ability in practice. "You scrimmage with each other," Rader said. "But some of those blocks Prothro made you don't want to do to your teammates."
"He's built thick for a guy that's not real tall," Shula added. "He's got some explosiveness and fast-twitch muscle fibers, all those things you like in a receiver. He uses that to block."
As a true freshman the coaches are being cautious with Prothro, making sure they don't overload him with too much too soon. But clearly they like what they've seen so far.
"We're putting him in a position where he's not having as much to learn as a senior would," Shula explained. "We work him at just one position, and he's picked it up. But he's still got a lot to learn, as far as adjusting his routes to coverages.
"But the best way to do it is to get in there and play."