Kickoff Coverage A Sore Subject

Alabama cornerback Kareem Jackson was quick to answer the question. Is he a member of the kickoff coverage team? "No," he said. "And I'm glad I'm not. Those guys are going to get an earful."

It can be expected that a team will have some rough spots in the early going of a football season. For Alabama the glaring weakness has been kickoff coverage. Bama gave up kickoff returns for touchdowns to both Virginia Tech in the Crimson Tide's 34-24 season opening win and to Florida International in last Saturday's 40-14 Alabama win.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban was asked whether he had ever before been with a team that gave up kickoff returns for touchdowns in back-to-back weeks.

"I don't recall being a part of giving up very many kickoff returns for touchdowns, let alone back-to-back in games," Saban said.

Saban recognizes the problem. He said, "Without being specific to details, all the returns that we've given up have come back to one side. And we're over-squeazing the field, not staying in our lanes. I don't think it's a personnel issue as much as it is a responsibility and discipline issue of recognizing where everybody's supposed to fit.

"But I also feel that we have safeties on these plays that, if they were in position, we may give up 40- to 50-yard returns, but we wouldn't give up touchdowns. And I think that's something we need to continue to work on, as well. Everybody has a role on every play and everybody's got to do that."

Last week, Alabama's first kickoff resulted in terrific coverage, Florida International stopped inside its 15-yard line. "The kickoff coverage at times has been really good," Saban said. "But we've had some serious breakdowns that contributed to two touchdowns now and also other circumstances where we've given up pretty positive field position to the other team.

"I think that's something that's very, very critical, in kickoff and kickoff return, that we make an improvement so that we're getting better drive starts and giving the other team poor drive starts. Even when you start doing the alternative kicks like we did last week — pooching the ball, squibbing the ball, and all that — that's a feast or famine sometimes. If the ball bounces to them right they still get it on the 35-yard line. And then we kicked one out of bounds, so that gave it to them at the 40. So this is an area that we need to improve on.

"I think we have good enough players to do it. I just think that our consistency, decision-making running down field — how you dodge a block, where you fit on a wedge, all those things — we have to improve on.

"And we worked hard on them last week. We even improved the scout team and put quality players on the scout team so that we can get a better picture and how we went about it. And it was disappointing to me that we didn't make more progress in that area."

Saban said one problem could be a player trying too hard.

He said, "We have one guy who is a demon running down the field. I'm not going to mention any names because I certainly don't want to be critical of the player. But I think sometimes his over-aggressiveness puts him in the wrong position relative to the rest of the players. So that's something we've got to continue to work on with him."

Alabama and North Texas kick off at 11:20 a.m. Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

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