Kicking game playmaker

Thanks to a renewed emphasis on the kicking game this season, Chris James had already blocked two punts before. So that part was old hat. <br><br>But a fortunate bounce Saturday against Ole Miss let him complete a rare special-teams double play.

"I never had one where I did both before, blocking the punt then scooping the ball and scoring," James explained.

Alabama practices the situation every day in practice. Players will streak in to block the punt, then the mad scramble ensues with everyone looking to pick up the football and score. But it's rare for the punt blocker himself to also recover the kick.

"Usually the ball goes somewhere else," James explained, "so I had never done both before."

Getting a free run at the Ole Miss punter, Chris James blocked the ball cleanly and then scooped it up and returned it for a touchdown. At the time the play narrowed the gap to 38-16, Ole Miss.

The junior safety recorded his third blocked punt of the 2003 season Saturday. James blocked the Cody Ridgeway punt with 4:59 left in the third quarter and was credited with a 44-yard punt return for his first career touchdown at Alabama. James has one blocked punt in each of his last two games for Alabama, including the previous week's 17-3 win over Southern Miss. James also had a blocked punt in the Crimson Tide's 20-13 loss to No.1 Oklahoma on September 6.

Tide Special Teams Coordinator Dave Ungerer likes to explain that punt blocks are like a checker match. You counter me here, and I'll respond by attacking over there.

"We just used a different alignment," James recalled. "We changed up the alignment and our personnel a little bit. We rearranged everybody."

Before the ball is snapped, the protecting team furiously counts players, trying to make sure every man is accounted for. But on that play Bama had ‘em confused.

James explained, "We brought Thurman Ward to the outside of me. He drew the attention of the wing man and the personal protector. There was a miscommunication (by Ole Miss). Both of the blockers went to somebody else. The personal protector picked up (Thurman), and I just came through."

Against Southern Miss the previous week James had to fight through a blocker and ended up horizontal to the ground as he reached out and got a piece of the football. Last Saturday his path was easier.

"I came through clean," he recalled. "Nobody was there to block me."

Running full speed at the punter, James was concentrating completely on blocking the kick. But once that was accomplished, he wanted more.

"I was looking around for the football," he said, "and I eventually found it. I remember having a little trouble picking it up."

With the ball safely in his hands, James was able to waltz into the endzone.

"I really didn't see who was behind me," he recalled. "I was just headed straight to the endzone. It happened so fast that it was like a dream."

An option quarterback in high school, James is both athletic and fast, two traits he puts to good use in the Bama kicking game.

James' three blocked kicks this season against Oklahoma, Southern Miss and Ole Miss ties the Alabama single-season record for most blocked kicks by an individual. James joins five other UA players with three blocked kicks in a season, including Tommy Johnson (1 PAT, 2 punts, 1994), Antonio London (3 FGs, 1991), Mike Kramer (2 FGs, 1 Punt, 1976), Leroy Cook (3 FGs, 1974) and Mike Washington (3 FGs, 1973).

So far this season James has seen little action on defense. But he's been a mainstay of Bama's special teams, totaling seven tackles (one for a loss of 24 yards) to go with his punt blocks.

On the team roster next to his name you'll find the two-letter abbreviation "FS," signifying his spot on the depth chart at free safety. But a more accurate designation would probably be "PB," for punt blocking specialist.

"I just do whatever I can to help the team out," James said. "It's fun to go out there.

"On special teams it's really fun having a chance to make a big play in the game."


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