Ahead of his time

There have been several pleasant surprises this fall, involving younger players that have stepped up their game to fill needed roles on the team. A prime example is Ramzee Robinson. <br><br>The redshirt freshman will definitely return kickoffs and handle nickel-back duties for the Tide. Plus, he's still battling for a starting job at cornerback.

All three roles normally go to older, veteran players, but Robinson is nothing if not precocious. "I just leave it in the hands of Coach Ball," Robinson, speaking of Secondary Coach Chris Ball. "He'll make the decision about who plays each Saturday and how the rotation goes. All I want to do is give 110 percent. I just want to leave it all on the field.

"I'm out here having fun."

Watch Robinson for a few minutes, and you'll remember that football really is a game. He goes hard on every play, an attribute that has not gone unnoticed by the Tide coaches. "I hope (the coaches) see my competitiveness," Robinson said. "I go out there every day in practice wanting to compete. With all the energy that I have, it tends to catch peoples' attention. I'm out there running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

After sitting out last season as a redshirt, Robinson can't wait for kickoff versus South Florida to arrive.

"I can look wild sometimes, but it's just me competing every day, trying to be consistent."

Head Coach Mike Shula talked about the attributes that allow Robinson to play so much so early in his career. "He' aggressive and very quick," Shula said. "As a defensive back, he does a nice job of diagnosing the play and breaking on the ball. He has good football skills. He changes direction well.

"Hopefully he'll play that way during the season."

Robinson attributes it to pent-up energy, accumulated during his redshirt season. "I'm just out here trying to work my butt off," he said. "I've got a lot of energy and excitement built up from sitting last season. I'm excited to be out here and competing. I'm really looking forward to playing on Saturday."

Coach Ball knew last spring that Robinson would probably handle the nickel back position. But he's exceeded expectations. Robinson, Charlie Peprah and Thurman Ward continue their camp-long battle for one of the starting cornerback slots.

"We're all good friends," Robinson said. "We try to push each other. If one of us makes a play, then we all want to make the same play. We're competing, but at the same time we're friends, helping each other out. We want to succeed on the field."

Peprah of course was a Freshman All-American last season, so he should have the edge in that competition. But Robinson will have the nickel back role all to himself.

He talked about the position. "It's different from a regular cornerback. You're not as much on an island like the outside guys. You don't have as many reads. But with the nickel position you've got to be able to have your head on a swivel, knowing what everybody else is doing. That's what lets you be in a position to make a play. It's really tough. It's new to me, so I spend more time in the film room, trying to perfect it."

Robinson starred as an option quarterback in high school, but he's happy on defense at Alabama. "I think cornerback is my position," he said. "And I hope to help on special teams, returning kicks."

His work on special teams has been as impressive as anything else. All things being equal, Special Teams Coordinator Dave Ungerer would prefer older, more seasoned players returning kicks. But Robinson has been too good to ignore.

Among other duties, Ramzee Robinson will return kickoffs for Alabama this year.

"I didn't return kicks in high school; that really started last season when I was on the scout team," Robinson explained. "I was on both scout kickoff and scout punt return. At least once each week I'd return a kick back the whole way. That was still on film, and the staff saw it. I returned kicks in the spring, and Coach U (Dave Ungerer) saw me on film and he put me out there."

Successful punt return men operate mostly on instinct. Make the first man miss and then rely on your athleticism to get up the field. But kickoffs are another matter. With 10 other players setting up to block, the return man must not only be fast and athletic, he also has to be smart and know how to make good use of his teammates.

Weaving in and out of traffic, reminds Robinson of his his offensive glory days in high school. "It brings back memories of running in the open field," he admitted. "I'm just trying to figure out ways to get the football back in my hands. That's the quickest way--interceptions and returning kicks."

Punt return men usually have only two players bearing down at full speed, Robinson has to worry about 11. He explained, "That's what I think about before the ball is kicked. While you're waiting there are 11 guys running as fast as they can toward you. The toughest thing about returning kicks is remaining focused while the ball is in the air, wondering where the ball is going to drop. You've got to block everything out and just concentrate on the ball. Then make the catch."

Set for duty on both defense and special teams, Robinson has been kidding his good friend and teammate Kenneth Darby. The two played high school ball together and together committed to play for the Crimson Tide. But everyone that knows them personally has his favorite Darby/Robinson story. Probably no two players on the squad are more intensely--and personally--competitive.

"We fight about who'll get the most reps every day," Robinson acknowledged. "I told him I was, then he told me he was. We'll just have to see. We're both pushing each other. I hope he does real well, and he hopes the same for me. We cheer each other on...

"But at the same time I told him I was going to have more."

Robinson, who is still battling for a starting job at cornerback, has already sewn up the nickel-back role.

From football to Parchesi, neither friend backs down even an inch. "This year special teams gives me an edge, which I made sure I told him," Robinson said. "Then Kenneth got on the punt team, but he's with the second team. I'm on first kickoff return with Tri (Triandos Luke), so that's my edge."

Robinson is also counting on the Sports Information Department. He intends to use next year's media guide to prove his edge in reps over Darby. "That way when he tries to tell me he had more snaps, he won't be able to lie," Robinson said laughing. "He's good at that. We'll be able to see, though--sure will."

Both Darby and Robinson share something else in common. Both sat out last season as redshirts, which means that next week's game can't get here fast enough.

"It seems like forever," Robinson said. "The last game I played in was the (2002) Alabama/Mississippi All-Star game. That seems like so long. I'm really looking forward to next Saturday. I can't wait.

"I think about it every night when I go to bed about how close it is to being here. I want to make an impact and start my career off right."

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