By Michael Hicks
Nick Saban has called his special teams unit â€œawfulâ€ at times. It started in the Clemson game when C.J. Spiller took a kick-off to the house. It continued in Athens with Prince Miller’s 92-yard touchdown return, and a blocked punt by Zach Renner.
â€œThe special team errors were huge in terms of field position and allowing the other team to get back into the game,â€ Saban said at his press conference earlier this week. â€œThey are all things that are correctable. We need to do a better job playing with consistency. That is something we have worked hard at, coached hard at, we have young players playing on special teams that need to do a better job in making some improvement, finishing some plays, whether it be kickoff coverage (or any other area). Two weeks in a row we have made mental errors in punt protection – it is nothing that cannot be corrected. This week it cost us a blocked punt. Kickoff coverage has been good sometimes and bad sometimes. We need to fix that.â€
Saban is preaching tackling this week in practice even for kicker Leigh Tiffin.
Heâ€™s also identified a few other problems with the special teams. Hereâ€™s the breakdown.
â€œThere is not a common thread,â€ Saban said. â€œSpecifically in punt protection we have one guy who is not blocking the right guy two weeks in a row and he is the guy who calls who is blocking who. So that is a hard one for me to understand….
â€œThe punt coverage in the last game has not been that bad. There were a couple penalties that were not called and that as verified by the SEC. I am not talking about the officials they have a tough job and they just missed it. The two guys that could have made the plays there were infractions on the particular play.â€
Hereâ€™s what Saban had to say about kickoff coverage:
â€œIn kickoff coverage we had some young guys running down the field and when they do it correctly we have great success in getting good field position and when they run the same return and do it incorrectly the ball breaks out and they get better field position.â€
This week Kentucky comes in leading the nation and averaging 38.5 yards per kickoff return. Dicky Lyons had a 100-yard kickoff return Saturday against Western Kentucky. The Crimson Tide is the 10th-ranked team in the conference for kickoff coverage.
Alabama has a special teams weapon in Javier Arenas, who is averaging 17.9 yards per punt return and has one touchdown. More and more teams are kicking away from him this year.
â€œOn our return game, people are not kicking to 28 but our drive start has been good,â€ Saban said. â€œIn other words they are squib kicking all the time and sky kicking. We are getting the ball in good field position, it affects your return yards just not your drive start. So that is the most important thing â€“ where do you start the drive. That part of it has been ok. I hope when we get opportunities we will be able to return the ball.â€