Putting best players on special teams separates Alabama football from everyone else

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Calvin Ridley was a little confused when he arrived in Tuscaloosa and was asked to play special teams for Alabama football.

Why, Ridley initially thought, would a top receiving option be asked to run down and cover punts and kicks?

“In high school, I did play kickoff. I’d run down there,” Ridley said. “But when I first got here, they had me on kickoff, punt blocker and punt return. There were some big guys down there, and I didn’t get it.”

Ridley came to understand that at Alabama, special teams are stressed as much as offense and defense. Putting the best players on special teams is one of the things that sets Alabama apart from other teams in the country. It’s not only for the team, but Alabama also prepares players for a potential post-college football career.

“They preach special teams. It’s very important,” Ridley said. “At the NFL level, if you don’t play a starting position, you play special teams. All our starters, whoever, it doesn’t matter who you are, you can play special teams to help the team.”

Outside of maybe the starting quarterback, all of Alabama’s best players are available for special teams. It’s a reason why Alabama football knocked off No. 3 Florida State 24-7 on Saturday.

Alabama’s do-it-all defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick blocked a field goal that ended Florida State’s hopes of tying the game before halftime. Starting running back Damien Harris laid out to block a punt Alabama recovered.

“It’s a tribute to how hard we work and that hunger we have to win and just make plays any way we can,” Harris said. “Coach Saban always talks about how everybody has a role — offense or defense, special teams and sometimes it might even be both. So guys are just willing to do anything, sell out, do anything to make a play whether it’s offensively, defensively, special teams.

“I just think that we have those kind of guys with that kind of mindset that’s willing to do anything to help the team.”

Harris blocked a punt and scored a rushing touchdown in the same game. He couldn’t decide which was the better accomplishment. After blocking the punt, Harris jumped up in hopes of scooping the ball for a score. He thought it “would be crazy” to block one and score off the recovery.

He’s the latest starting running back at Alabama to play a big role on special teams. It’s a sense of pride for that group.

“[Running backs] Coach [Burton] Burns always talks about how all the running backs that have played here have ended up playing on special teams either their freshman year or until they left,” Harris said. “We kind of look at that as an honor. On punt, running backs are usually the only guys on offense to play punt protection. That’s something we take pride in and something we want to continue to do.”

The post Putting best players on special teams separates Alabama football from everyone else appeared first on SEC Country.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.