Kicking Mistake Could Be Costly

When you watch the Alabama Crimson Tide this year there are two things that are undeniable: 1. Alabama is a very good football team. 2. Alabama's kickoff coverage stinks.

Every time Alabama tees up the football, Alabama fans hold their collective breath.


Because they know the next 15 seconds could change the momentum or even the outcome of the game.

This story originally appeared at

I'll just say it. Alabama kick coverage is awful.

It is the Crimson Tide's Achilles heel.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban's response was direct as usual, "We're over-squeezing the field, not staying in our lanes," Saban said Monday. "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."

Saban said he didn't recall past teams giving up many kick returns for touchdowns — "let alone back-to-back in games."

In other words, a team as talented as Alabama, that is so well coached, should not have this much trouble covering kicks.

The statistics support my claim.

Alabama has allowed a whooping 428 return yards on kickoffs in just two games for an average of 28.5 per kick. If that wasn't bad enough for you then try having two kickoffs returned for touchdowns leading to lead changes and I think you get the picture.

Alabama was ranked No.75 in kickoff coverage last year and that statistic has not improved; in fact they have gotten worse.

Alabama is currently ranked 113 out of 120 teams in the country in kickoff coverage...OUCH!

So this is not a new problem, and it certainly hasn't been addressed yet.

Blame it all on the kicker?

Possibly, but Leigh Tiffin is a solid place kicker and he ranks No. 2 nationwide as a field goal kicker. Having said that he very seldom kicks the ball deep into the end-zone?

Is that by design or is it lack of leg strength?

Only he and the coaches know the answer to that question.

Blame it on the coaches?

Bobby Williams is the special teams coach, but if he were the entire problem wouldn't all the Special Teams be struggling? Wouldn't Alabama be having punts and field goals blocked? Then there is the punt coverage.

Alabama punt coverage is much improved this year.

Alabama's P.J. Fitzgerald is averaging a very respectable 46.5 average with only a 4.7 average on returns. Alabama ranks No. 39 in punt coverage and Fitzgerald ranks No. 18 in punting. That adds up to an acceptable No. 26 ranking in net punting yards.

That is not that great, but it's not too shabby either.

So the question is what is Alabama doing on punt coverage that they are failing to do on kickoff coverage?

Could the problem be the players that are on the kickoff team?

Punt coverage and kickoff coverage are two completely different animals and require two completely different types of players.

On punt coverage players are head-up on your defender at the line of scrimmage and must fight their way down field while trying to keep an eye on both the ball and the return man.

All this as attempting to stay in coverage lanes and trying to get down the field as fast as possible. It requires a stronger bigger athlete.

Kickoffs are different. Players fly down the field unopposed until reaching the return team, whose players have fallen back to block. Then it's a train wreck as players are basically supposed to sacrifice their bodies to take out blockers and try to make the tackle.

All this while trying to avoid being blind sided and working to stay in the coverage lane. It requires smaller faster players.

Covering kickoffs is considered the most dangerous play in football.

Most teams put their most fearless players on kickoff coverage: the headhunters.

Last year Alabama had the same problem and yet the beat goes on?

I can't count the number of times that placekicker Leigh Tiffin had to make the tackle himself as the last man standing. In the Florida game Tiffin was knocked out of the game while attempting to prevent another possible touchdown.

In 2008 I thought maybe it was just a lack of talent on the kickoff team due to lack of depth at Alabama.

This year we are starting to see some of Alabama's key players covering kickoffs and even that has not stopped the bleeding, so that blows that theory.

Whatever the cause is, it must be found and corrected.

Alabama is playing too well and there is too much is at stake to lose a big game due to poor kickoff coverage.

Special teams coach Bobby Williams is a good coach and he and Saban's relationship goes all the way back to Michigan State, so I know they are working together to solve this problem.

I just hope they can fix Alabama's Achilles heel before it causes the Crimson Tide to lose a critical close game.

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