Arenas Giving Tide A Kick

There's a feeling you've seen that type before. Tyrone Prothro. David Palmer. There have been great kick returns in Alabama football history. There have been outstanding Crimson Tide return men. But it may be we are watching the best ever.

It is not difficult to make a case that Javier Arenas is the best punt and kickoff return man in the nation. And it's reasonable to anoint him the best ever in storied Alabama football history.

Arenas, a senior cornerback from Tampa, Fla., is an extraordinary success story. He was a preseason All-America as a kick return man. He's particularly adept on punt returns, an area in which he is the active NCAA leader in career punt returns, punt return yards, and punt return touchdowns.

Arenas doesn't flinch with defenders bearing down on him as he maneuvers under a punt. He has the ability to make the first man miss, and then looks for holes and blocks from his teammates and someway to get every possible inch from the opportunity.

He's forward, then backwards, left, right. Now you have him, now you don't. Even photographers have a tough time snapping him on returns because he's moving so fast and getting behind big blockers.

Javy, as he is known to his coaches and teammates, came into this season having averaged an Alabama record 13.5 yards per return on punts. He had 93 runbacks for 1,259 yards and six touchdowns.

And after three games he has improved his average.

Arenas had four punt returns for 90 yards against North Texas in Bama's 53-7 win at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday. For the year he has 11 returns for 226 yards, an average of over 20 yards per runback. In the third quarter against the Mean Green, Arenas had two of his punt returns, one for 36 yards that set up a three-play 39-yard touchdown drive and one for 33 yards that set up a six-play 33-yard touchdown drive.

Following the game, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, "They were obviously trying to kick the ball away from him and kick it out of bounds. We knew if we could ever get a feel that they were over-squeezing (to the boundary side), we'd hit them to the field (side), and we did a couple of times and made some big returns. He's a great competitor; he wants to make plays. I think our guys feed off his energy."

Arenas hasn't had the success on kickoff returns that he has on punt returns for his career, although he's been a very solid kickoff return man with an average of nearly 23 yards per runback for his career. Against North Texas he had only one opportunity and broke it for 61 yards.

One thing Arenas hasn't done this year is return a punt or kickoff for a touchdown. He's never had a kickoff return for a touchdown, but has had an Alabama record six career punt returns for touchdowns. Any reason he hasn't had one this year? "It seems like tacklers are jumping out of the ground," he said. "What's up with that?"

Even the threat of Arenas on a kickoff return pays dividends. Saban pointed out. He said Alabama's drive starts (starting field position after kickoffs) have been good not because of the returns, but because opponents use "alternative kicks." Those include squib kicks, such as North Texas tried to start the game and which gave Bama starting position at the 45; high kicks that almost always result in a start beyond the 20; and out-of-bounds kicks that give a start at the 40.

Arenas said that even an error helped him in the return game against North Texas. He dropped an early punt (though he picked it up and returned it 11 yards. "That forced me to focus more in the game," he said.

Arenas said, "If they kick the ball away from me, I have to go and get it. If you can't get it – if it's out of bounds – you can't get it."

Arenas gives credit to his teammates for his returns. "The blocking was awesome," he said of the North Texas game. "The blocking was the reason. If anything, I was the one responsible for not scoring on the kickoff return. I depend on instinct and good blocking."

This week Arenas will be getting for the start of Southeastern Conference play as Alabama hosts Arkansas at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium. CBS will televise the game.

Arenas said Bama can improve in every area. "We have our flaws," he said. "But we have a lot of positive things. One reason Coach Saban is such a great coach is he knows that each and every second of every game is important. And he teaches that to everyone.

"We have to focus on the little things.

"I think we're going to be successful in the return game. I know I can be better."

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