Fab freshmen shine against UT

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- If you think what you saw from Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon on the field Saturday night in Neyland Stadium was exciting, you should have seen practice.

Too bad you can't. The program's media policies won't allow it, but that didn't stop Nico Johnson from shining a little light on an otherwise classified activity.

"They play good week in and week out, but you should be at practice," the senior linebacker said with a smile. "'It's amazing how they're able to catch on to the offense and play with the comfort level they're playing at and make big plays."

Johnson said he and the other leaders on the team have tried to keep Cooper and Yeldon motivated at practice. In the game, the two fab freshmen have played inspired football all on their own.

Cooper set a freshman record with 162 receiving yards against Tennessee. His two touchdowns pushed his season total to five. Yeldon went over the 100-yard rushing mark for the second straight game against the Vols. He edged out Eddie Lacy for the team lead in rushing yards, taking 15 carries for 129 yards and two touchdowns. He's up to six scores on the year.

Cooper leads receivers in yards and touchdowns. Yeldon is nipping at Lacy's heels among running backs. They're both making an impact after arriving on campus only nine months ago.

It goes back to a saying UA senior tight end Michael Williams recalled after the game: "If you're good enough, you're old enough."

"It lets you know that for any freshman, if you've got the talent, whatever it takes to play, you're going to play here no matter how old you are."

Yeldon has been a known commodity since Game 1 when he became the first Alabama freshman to run for more than 100 yards. Williams praised his ability to be patient reading blocks and defined his game alongside the likes of Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram.

"He does everything well," Williams said. "He protects. He runs the ball hard. He's a great receiver. You put all that together and that's just like all the other stable of running backs we've had here. You put all that together and it's almost identical to everyone we've ever had here. To do those three things is an asset to you and our team."

And like Yeldon, Williams has been trying to tell everyone about Cooper for months, since SEC Media Days in fact.

Now that he's seen the product on the field, Williams isn't holding back his praise for Cooper. Barrett Jones called Cooper a machine. AJ McCarron said the sky is the limit.

"He can be one of the greatest," Williams said of Cooper. "I don't want to put that on his head but you see it. Before long, y'all would start saying that always. Y'all can see what he has. You see the talent. As long as he keeps his head straight, I think he'll be one of the greats."

UA coach Nick Saban isn't going to go that far to define Cooper's potential legacy, but he certainly likes what he sees.

"He's had some big plays all year long," Saban said. "He caught eight passes against Ole Miss. We think he's an outstanding player. He's just a freshman and he's gotten better and better every week. He's really learned to be very consistent. He plays fast and he plays hard."

What he does, Saban said, is exactly what he's looking for.

"He's a big-play player and we need explosive players on offense," Saban said.