Originally posted on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 7/27/13

Imposing frames. Great footwork. Deceptive quickness. And loads of talent. Most college football fans may think these are descriptions for a talented group of linebackers. But at Alabama, these traits are enthusiastically used to describe the recent legacy at running back. When Mark Ingram became Alabama’s first player to win the Heisman Trophy in 2009, little did the SEC know that he would help establish a growing line of players who resemble each other in both talent and size. Before Ingram was Glen Coffee. After Ingram was Trent Richardson, then Eddie Lacy. Now, with the 2013 collegiate football season about to kick off, sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon is already seen as the heir apparent to the skilled men who have come before him. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Romeo Guzman Yeldon, who stands 6’2” and weighs 218 pounds, rushed for over 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman at Alabama last season. However, the most impressive stat was that he generated all those yards on just 154 carries (7.2 yards per rush). Splitting carries with Lacy last season, Yeldon is now the main man in the backfield and – if preseason hype is any indication – he could join Ingram as the school’s second Heisman trophy recipient at season’s end. The sophomore has already been named to the media’s All-SEC preseason first team, and he is a candidate for the Doak Walker Award for the nation’s top running back and the Maxwell Award for top college player. ESPN said in its preseason preview, “[Yeldon] is as dangerous in the open field as he is gaining yards after contact.” But while the potential is apparent, here’s what’s really interesting: Yeldon is a bit of hybrid when compared to the men who came before him. He carries a little bit of each of them with him yet; overall, he has the potential to become the first one to actually see sustained success in the NFL. When Ingram rushed for Alabama, there was little question he was the nation’s top running back. As a sophomore, interestingly enough, he ran for over 1,650 yards and took home that coveted Heisman. A few weeks later, he led the Crimson Tide to the BCS National Championship (a 37-21 victory over Texas). The similarities between these two men lie in expectations. Like Ingram before him, Yeldon is expected to use the experience from a solid freshman year to become the Tide’s workhorse as the school looks to repeat as national champions. Of course, there were also big expectations for Glen Coffee when he attended Alabama from 2005-08. Still a fan favorite, Coffee set the tone for this group of running backs with nearly 1,400 yards rushing in 2008, followed by a short stint with the San Francisco 49ers. If you look purely at the physical, Coffee and Yeldon mirror each other in many ways when it comes to physical presence, with Coffee just a smidge smaller during his Alabama playing days (6’0 and 209 pounds). However, while Coffee was a terrific college player, he never possessed Yeldon’s speed or overall talent. Then there was Eddie Lacy, the man who handed over the running back torch to Yeldon. Despite sharing playing time with Yeldon last season, Lacy rushed for more than 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns as the featured back. Ironically, Yeldon finds himself now in the same situation Lacy was in last year. If fans remember, Lacy was sharing time (and getting less of it) with the great Trent Richardson just a year before he became head coach Nick Saban’s featured back. (Note: It’s unfair to leave out Richardson from this discussion of great Alabama running backs. The hulking Richardson produced a whopping 24 touchdowns during the 2011 season and was one of the key reasons Alabama won the national championship. Any review of recent Alabama running backs is incomplete without praising Richardson.) Knowing there was someone breathing down his back on the depth chart, Lacy delivered. And to Yeldon’s credit, he created a situation where he demanded playing time because of performance. Saban simply couldn’t keep him on the sidelines. He knows Yeldon’s running style may be the best he’s seen while coaching Alabama Crimson Tide football - and this is what sets him apart. Ingram and Lacy used power to bowl over opponents, while Coffee was a great pass catcher. All three, without a doubt, featured strong legs and power. While Yeldon also has that same power (which seems like a requirement to play running back at Alabama), his up and down, fluid-running style makes him standout among this group. Top analysts have most compared Yeldon’s style to Eddie George, if anyone. Talk about a compliment. Overall, these four men all characterize what fans now think about when they look at the recent trend of talented Alabama running backs: big men who are deceptively quick, but also guys whose drive to get the extra yard wears out opposing defenses. As Yeldon leads the Crimson Tide this season, he will carry a piece (in some shape or another) of the great backs that came before him. While similar characteristics and moments are good for coffee talk, the biggest task that Yeldon has ahead of him is achieving what these other backs have already attained – a legacy of greatness. Ingram, Coffee, Richardson and Lacy all got their shot at the NFL after their collegiate careers were over. But first, they helped establish a greatness at Alabama’s running back position. If last season is any indication, Yeldon has the talent to surpass them all. -Jones

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