Kirkpatrick Makes Big Hits For Tide

There's a good reason all-time Florida State and NFL great Deion Sanders didn't have a lot of hard hits, said Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. "He said he didn't have to," Kirkpatrick explained.

Dre Kirkpatrick plays cornerback for Alabama, which means he plays for Coach Nick Saban. It also means he practices under Nick Saban each day, which probably explains why Kirkpatrick has been turning in some big hits this season. Hits that make the crowd go, "Whoooo!".

Kirkpatrick says that Deion Sanders is his "role model," but this year the 6-2 Kirkpatrick, up to about 195 pounds, is hitting like a linebacker.

The problem for Kirkpatrick Saturday won't have anything to do with his new-found penchant for physical tackles. It will be mostly about getting to the man to make the tackle.

Alabama goes to Gainesville this weekend to take on the Florida Gators and their speed demon running back/pass catchers. Both teams are undefeated at 4-0 and both teams are nationally ranked, Bama second and Florida 12th. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. CDT (8 p.m. Eastern) and CBS will televise the game nationally.

Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are not only the Gators' leading rushers, they also rank one-two in pass receptions this season.

Kirkpatrick, a junior from Gadsden, turned in six solo tackles in Bama's 38-14 win over Arkansas last week. One of them was for a three-yard loss. He also broke up three passes. Kirkpatrick received mention from the Southeastern Conference in its weekly round-up of top performances.

Kirkpatrick said this week's game "is going to be a big change because of the speed on the field. Demps and Rainey are pretty fast, and we have to adjust to it and execute on all cylinders."

Kirkpatrick said that preparation this week has included using some of the fastest Tide players representing Demps and Rainey on the scout team. They include freshman wide receiver Bradley Sylve, a former 100- and 200-meter track champion in Louisiana.

"Those speed guys (on the scout team) are doing a great job, giving us great looks. I feel like if we keep working hard like we're supposed to, it's going to put us in a decent spot." What's different about the Florida passing game and Brantley?

Kirkpatrick said Florida would try to spread the field. "They get everybody in close so they can stretch the field and get wide," he said. "We have to be ready."

He knows that Florida Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis has promised to "throw the kitchen sink" at Alabama. "Everybody loves a challenge," Kirkpatrick said. "If you're not a competitor you wouldn't, but I'm a competitor. I pretty much love a challenge, so I'll be ready."

Kirkpatrick is not the same player he was in his first two seasons at Alabama because of work in the weight room that has made him bigger and stronger. He said he was unable to work as hard his first two years because of injuries. "This year I came in pretty much healthy," he said. "Cocky (Strength and Conditioning Coach Scott Cochran) did a great job of getting me stronger and faster."

There may have been another factor. Kirkpatrick admits as a freshman to being "one of the jokers on the sideline, because I didn't get that playing time. Now that I'm playing, I'm taking it more seriously. I'm taking it more like a business, more like a job. Every day I'm looking at it like I'm going to work."

Kirkpatrick had two of the biggest hits in Bama's last game. He said the feeling "is exciting, but you have to let it go. If you stay stuck on that play, you're going to get beat the next. I enjoy it for the moment, but then it's gone the next play."

The initial reward, he said, comes from his teammates. "Every time someone makes a big play, everybody greets him and lets him know it was a great job. But you have to go back and do it again."

And again.

"Coach Saban says that we've never arrived until the end of the year," Kirkpatrick said. "We're going to keep pressing hard to do our job."

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