Perhaps a toast to kickoff return men could be along the lines of "May the grass be at your back." Alabama sophomore Javier Arenas thinks he'll have more confidence with a kickoff rule that goes into effect this season. In an attempt to make the kickoff more exciting and eliminate the touchback from a kick into or beyond the end zone, a new NCAA rule this year moves the kickoff point back five yards, from the 35 to the 30.
Everyone expects that to make a big difference in big plays and in offensive field position to start drives after kickoffs.
Last year Arenas, a 5-9, 193-pound cornerback from Tampa, was the top kick and punt return man for Alabama. He had 18 kick returns for 344 yards, an average of 19.1 yards per return with a long of 31 yards. He also returned 31 punts for 286 yards, a 9.2 yards per return average, and had two touchdowns on punt returns.
In the Independence Bowl against Oklahoma State, Arenas returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown. That was an Alabama bowl record and Independence Bowl record. He also had a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown against Florida International, a runback that came on his birthday.
Following practice Monday, Arenas discussed the new rule on kickoffs. "It's good news," he said. "Having a little grass behind you when you catch the ball gives you confidence."
Arenas said kickoff work had been stressed more this year in pre-season Alabama drills. "But everything is stressed more," he added.
"You could work on your quickness or explosiveness, but that's not the job," he said. "Assignments. I've got to know my assignments and I've got to be familiar with the assignments of the men on the field with me."
Arenas talked about kickoff return "plays," but indicated those are something like plays that develop on the fly. "It's more than just return left or return right," he said. "Every block has a purpose and how the blocks are made determine the options."
Arenas said he expects Alabama to have a good kickoff return team. In addition to himself, he said those working as kickoff return men include tailbacks Terry Grant and Glen Coffee, wide receiver D.J. Hall, and defensive back Kareem Jackson. "The speed guys," he said.
"The new rule is a benefit to the return team," Arenas said. "We should be able to set the offense up in good field position."