Tiffin Target Of All

Once upon a time, placekickers were viewed by many as not really being football players. That view came primarily from washed up players ending up in television booths trying to add color to a game.

To be sure, kickers can be a little different. But they have pressures never known by an offensive guard. There's more than one reason they are called specialists. Having to make a field goal with the game on the line takes special skills and a special kind of mental toughness.

Alabama junior placekicker Leigh Tiffin gets tested on that in a lot of ways. He is called on to make kicks when the game is in the balance, and he is doing very well. Tiffin has made eight of 10 field goals and all 21 of his extra point kicks and has scored 45 points in five games, an average of nine points per contest.

Particularly in road games, Tiffin gets a lot of verbal abuse. "I think a kicker is a favorite sideline target of opposing fans," he said. "And you have to act like you don't hear them. You certainly don't want to reply. That would only make it worse."

Lately, Tiffin has been getting abuse of a more physical nature. Although he has been kicking off well, Alabama kickoff coverage has been spotty. As a result, Tiffin has found himself as part of the defense.

"Tackling is not really what I spend most of my practice time on," he said. "Now I find myself out there trying to make one of the hardest tackles in football, a 4.3 guy coming right at me.

"One of these days I may get pretty good at it, but right now I'm getting run over."

Alabama Coach Nick Saban leaves no stone unturned in attempting to have everything covered in preparation for a game. To that end, expect the kickoff coverage team to get extra work this week. Both Saban and Tiffin have pointed out that there are a number of young players on that special teams unit.

"They are young guys and they are getting better each week," said Tiffin. "Last year we were really good in kickoff coverage and this year we haven't been clicking. When everyone does what he's supposed to do, it's good. But this year sometimes we've had some who have been out of place. It's not any one person.

Saban said, "Kickoff coverage has been good sometimes and bad sometimes. We need to fix that."

Meanwhile, Saban has another plan. Tiffin said, "I'm out there getting one-on-one tackling lessons with Coach Saban," he said. Tiffin goes through the tackling rotation with the cornerbacks.

Saban previously noted that kickoff distance was not Tiffin's strong point, and Tiffin has only one touchback this year. But he did kick a couple into the end zone last week in a 41-30 win over Georgia in Athens.

Tiffin said he had made some changes in his kickoff techniques. For one thing, he changed his steps and is taking longer strides. For another, he is teeing the ball up on the left side and kicking to the left corner. "I like going left to left," he said. "As a right-footed kicker I can get good location."

One good thing is that Tiffin has done a lot of kicking off this year. Alabama leads the SEC in scoring at 37 points per game and has 23 touchdowns (tops in the SEC) and eight field goals.

Next up for Bama is Kentucky. Alabama will host the Wildcats at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium with television coverage by CBS. Alabama is 5-0 overall and 2-0 in SEC games. Kentucky is 4-0 and will be making its SEC debut.

Kentucky ranks first in the SEC in kickoff returns, six runbacks for an average of 38.5 yards per return with one touchdown.

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