Tide Practices Against Cut Block

There are thousands of examples. A game can turn on one play. It may come at the end, a game-winning field goal. It may be a punt return that switches field position in the fourth quarter. A score just before half. And dozens of other examples.

In last week's Alabama win over Arkansas there was a play that could affect the Crimson Tide's entire season.

In that game, the Razorbacks were flagged on their first offensive series for clipping. On the second Arkansas offensive series, the Razorbacks were guilty of a chop block.

It was later in the first quarter, though, that an Arkansas block did the horrible damage. A "cut block" in which a lineman pulled out, then cut back and plowed into the left knee of Crimson Tide linebacker Dont'a Hightower, damaged the ligament and ended the season for Hightower.

No one would suggest that Arkansas was attempting to injure Hightower or any other player, but the cut block is dangerous.

Alabama's practice includes linebackers working on techniques to deal with cut blocks.

Cory Reamer, the starter last year and through the first four games of this season at strongside linebacker (and outside linebacker position), moved into Hightower's weakside (inside) spot after the injury.

Following Alabama's Tuesday practice, Hightower said Bama's inside linebackers drill to protect themselves. "We do it at the sam (strongside) and jack (outside) positions, too," he said. "Nowadays, everybody's going to be trying to cut block you when they get on the edge. That's what happened to Dont'a when he got hurt. So it's real critical that we really work on those kind of blocks because they are pretty dangerous."

The block didn't affect the outcome of the Alabama-Arkansas game. The Tide hammered the Hogs, 35-7, to run Bama's record to 4-0 and maintain the Crimson Tide as the nation's number three team.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban can be expected to adjust his personnel so that the loss of Hightower does not affect the season.

Cory Reamer, the 6-4, 234-pound senior, figures into those plans because of his versatility. He has worked both at inside and outside linebacker positions.

"We definitely have to make some adjustments with Dont'a going down.," Reamer said. "We're taking it in stride, though. We're going to go about it each day, see what combinations work out the best. We're just doing some different things, trying to figure out who fits best where. We'll go from there."

Prior to the start of the season there had been a suggestion that Hightower, an excellent pass rusher, might move to jack, the position played last year by Brandon Fanney. Fanney was dismissed from the team during the summer. With Hightower at jack, Reamer was getting work at Hightower's Will position, where he had played in 2007 and practiced off-and-on subsequently.

When the season opened, Hightower was at Will and Reamer at Sam because Eryk Anders had showed he could handle the jack position. It goes without saying that middle linebacker was in good hands—the hands of Rolando McClain.

Reamer said the feel of practice is not greatly different than it was in fall camp in August. "We're still running consistently what we were doing in camp," he said. "We're not changing too much. It's not a whole different scheme or anything like that. It is diffent in the fact that everybody's kind of having to shuffle around like we did in camp."

Reamer said he could draw on his previous experience at inside linebacker. He also noted, "Coach Saban talked about it the other day. Inside linebacker is a completely different position than inside linebacker." Reamer said "The hardest thing is it is a whole different read.

"Just getting back into the feel of things, that's the biggest step, the biggest part for me to get used to again. As far as getting back there and remembering the things I used to do or what practiced that whole year or did it during camp, that's definitely benefited me a lot."

There are other possibilities. The two inside linebacker spots, Middle and Weakside, are "pretty much" identical positions," Reamer said. So it's possible that a backup at one of those spots, a Chris Jordan or a Nico Johnson, could be utilized.

"Moving an outside linebacker is a little more difficult," Reamer said. "But since I've been there, I guess it's not as hard for me to do it than maybe an outside linebacker who had never layer there. If you tried to put Courtney Upshaw or somebody who's always had his hand in the dirt or an outside linebacker kind of guy, it would definitely be more difficult."

Reamer said the defensive experimentation is limited to linebacker. "Or secondary and our defensive front are pretty much settled in," he said.

The experimentation hasn't taken Reamer completely away from his strongside position. He said he's working at both Sam and Will and also getting some repetitions at the money position in the nickel set. "They don't want me to get too far from the Sam position because we never know what combination's going to work," he said. "I'm not the only one moving around. We had other guys playing different positions. We lost a good pass rusher, too, so we're trying to develop some of those guys."

Reamer and his teammates are preparing for another Southeastern Conference game this week. The Tide goes to Kentucky for a game that will be regionally televised on the SEC Network. Kickoff will be shortly after noon EDT (11:21 central time). Reamer said the Wildcats "run the ball really well. They're a lot like Arkansas as far as the game plan they bring. They do run the ball a little bit more. They don't have Ryan Mallett back there. They have a great quarterback. (Mike) Hartline's a good guy. He's tall, just like last week. He can definitely throw the ball. But they do run the ball really well. They're tough and physical inside the tackles and they're going to try to beat you with the run."

But hopefully not the block.

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