Debose Catching On

Sitting on the bench during the first part of the season, Andre Debose knew he had to make changes. He wasn't used to watching other playmakers electrify the crowd. He didn't know what it was like to be held out of the end zone. There was never a time in his football career where he wasn't on the field.

"Not getting on the field, I've never experienced that in my life," Andre Debose said. "I've played football since I was seven and never sat on the bench. I had to figure out something."

It came on the practice field where he had two choices. He could either continue to rely only on his athletic ability, or he could learn the playbook in depth and earn extended playing time. He admits struggling to read coverages while on the field and having to decipher how the defense was playing him.

In high school, Debose was the fastest man on the field. His mindset was simply "run and get open."

"High school was kind of easy," Debose said. "I'm starting to figure out that it does take more to be a student of the game instead of just going out and doing it."

The coaches mentioned a possible lack of effort on the practice field, but Debose doesn't remember that. He didn't know the playbook like he should have, but his lack of progression wasn't because of effort on the practice field.

"I feel that I gave great effort," Debose said. "I don't know why the coaches didn't feel I was giving great effort. I think I was doing a lot of thinking. When you think playing football, it does slow you down."

Learning the offense was complicated by a position change. Debose played the slot receiver position when he came to campus before a hamstring injury forced him to miss last season. He worked out in the slot during the spring and the beginning of fall, but he was moved outside to the X receiver spot.

"The two positions are like night and day," Debose said. "The (slot) position doesn't do too many of the routes that the X position does. At the X position you have to do a lot of hot routes. You just have to know a lot more information."

He was used on a jet sweep against LSU, a play that seemed to disappear when Percy Harvin left for the NFL. He was also used in the play action game against Alabama after lining up as a running back.

Running the football is actually where Debose feels the most comfortable, and he expects to continue becoming a part of the rushing attack.

"Running the ball is way easier than running around to get open," Debose said. "I did that a lot in high school and that's pretty much what I was known for, running the ball."

For an offense starved of playmakers, the coaching staff welcomes Debose's emergence. They are now focusing on trying to get him more involved.

Jeff Demps' foot sprain has taken the biggest playmaker out of the offense, but Debose proved on his kickoff return for a touchdown against LSU that he can be trusted to be explosive.

"We have a lot of players capable of making big plays," Debose said. "It's just the coaches having to put players in situations to make those plays."

Special teams coach D.J. Durkin did that when he approached Debose after the Alabama game about returning kicks. Demps' foot injury makes the coaches want to limit his touches on special teams in the future.

"(Durkin) sat me down and told me he wasn't just putting me back there for the time being or because people were down," Debose said. "He wanted that to be my spot."

Debose looks different catching the kickoffs, as he catches it with his hands above his head. Most kick returners use their hands to pin the ball against their chest when catching it, but Debose isn't comfortable using that method.

"I catch kicks different from everybody else," Debose said. "They tried to break it out of me, but I just feel more comfortable catching it with my hands than catching it the traditional way."

Debose realizes once Demps is healthy again, the job may not be his any longer.

"That's the fastest man in college football, so I don't know about that," Debose said.
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