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Alabama opponents have seen return specialist Javier Arenas mostly from behind this season.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Alabama opponents have seen return specialist Javier Arenas mostly from behind this season.

Many happy returns for Tide
Alabama gets a big boost from kick returner Arenas

By Josh Cooper · 340-2460

In consecutive games, Terry Grant hasn’t had to run too far to score on Alabama’s first offensive play from scrimmage.

In the season-opening win over Western Carolina, the Crimson Tide started 47 yards from the end zone. Grant bolted for a touchdown on the first play. Against Vanderbilt on Saturday, his 1-yard touchdown run wasn’t exactly a long distance, either.

Both were set up by kick and punt returns by Javier Arenas, Alabama’s return specialist.

Through two games, Arenas has added a quick-strike element to the Crimson Tide’s offense.

“Anytime you make big plays in special teams, it affects the field position,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We obviously saw that (against Vanderbilt) with points.”

Saban says 100 yards of field position usually equate into seven points. Against the Commodores, the Crimson Tide compiled 79 yards on punt returns and 59 more in kickoff returns.

Vanderbilt used a variety of rugby-style punts Saturday to try to move Arenas or fellow punt returner Jonathan Lowe to one side of the field and trap whoever had the ball.

It didn’t work on the Commodores’ first punt or many others as Alabama averaged 26.3 yards a return, while Vanderbilt averaged 32.1 yards a punt.

Later in the game, Vanderbilt scrapped the line-drive punts in favor of kicking more traditionally.

“It is better than having to go 80 yards when we can go 50,” Crimson Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson said. “If we keep doing that, we are going to be all right.”

Lowe’s return has helped. Lowe transferred to Alabama from Mississippi State and had to sit out the 2006 season as part of NCAA transfer rules.

In 2004, Lowe averaged 18.1 yards on kickoff returns and 11.1 yards on punt returns and garnered freshman All-SEC honors.

It was unclear whether Lowe was going to be able to play this season. He sat out of preseason practice with academic issues, but it was obvious Saturday that his presence, along with Arenas’ big run, was a factor in Alabama’s victory.

Last season, Arenas averaged 6.7 return yards on punts. But with his hot start this season, he is averaging 18.4 yards a return. On kick returns, he is averaging 26.8 yards in comparison to last season’s 19.7 yards.

“He’s explosive, man,” Tide wide receiver DJ Hall said. “Everybody knows once the ball is in his hands, he can do a lot of things with it. He showed that against Vanderbilt.”

Alabama Monday Playback

Three points Alabama should remember from its 24-10 victory at Vanderbilt.

Your defense looks good: Alabama can take pride in allowing only 232 yards against a good offensive team such as Vanderbilt. Not only did the Crimson Tide limit the Commodores’ chances, it also hit hard and hurt them.

Arkansas is no Vanderbilt: The Razorbacks’ Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, the stars of the Tide’s next opponent, will provide a greater challenge at running back than Vanderbilt’s Earl Bennett and Chris Nickson did at wide receiver and quarterback, respectively. Just get ready, Alabama.

The passing game needs to improve: Tide running back Terry Grant had his way Saturday against Vandy and the week before against Western Carolina. However, the Tide offense strives to be balanced, and quarterback John Parker Wilson made a lot of bad throws against the Commodores.

Josh Cooper

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