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December 31, 2011TUSCALOOSA | The Hank Crisp Indoor Athletic Facility, which sits beside the University of Alabama's outdoor practice field, allows the Crimson Tide to do just about anything it would do outside.
And one of the things that isn't quite the same -- practicing special teams -- compelled UA coach Nick Saban to practice outside Saturday for the first time since bowl preparations began. Although four missed field goals played a large role in Alabama's 9-6 overtime loss to LSU in November, it's kick coverage rather than field goal practice that benefits more from the outdoor setting.
"One thing we really can't do well indoors is ... we practice the kicking game (indoors), but the whole timing of catching punts relative to punt return, or kickoffs relative to kickoff return, or the coverage team trying to position themselves based on the punt, it's not possible to do that indoors," Saban said. "So we've been looking for a day when we could go out."
That day came Saturday, with sunny-but-cool weather Saban described as as nice a day as the team has practiced this year.
"It went really well. We went outside especially for the kicking game so we can get adjusted to punts and kicks," said senior wide receiver Darius Hanks. "We had a really good (special teams) practice today."
Saban said the team spent about twice as much time as normal practicing all aspects of the kicking game Saturday.
Saban on Jones
Few could have been more excited about Barrett Jones' decision to return to Alabama for his senior year than Saban. The Crimson Tide's left tackle and Outland Trophy winner said Friday he had decided to pass on the chance to declare early NFL Draft eligibility.
"Barrett has been a fantastic ambassador for this program," Saban said. "I'm not just talking about the kind of football player he is ... Anytime you have somebody that decides to stay in your organization that has all those qualities, it's got to be a very positive benefit."
With Jones' return, UA will lose only one starter on the offensive front -- center William Vlachos. Saban said Jones' position for 2012 is undetermined, but noted his versatility will help the coaching staff identify the best five linemen for the unit.
Competition up front
Offensive linemen Alfred McCullough and Anthony Steen both saw game action at the right guard position over the latter part of the season. If the UA coaching staff has chosen which of the two will man the position against LSU, they haven't told McCullough yet.
"We've split reps all through the week and nobody knows what's going to happen," McCullough said. "But we've all got a good, level head about the situation."
Steen started the first seven games of the season at right guard before sustaining a concussion, and was replaced by McCullough. When left tackle Barrett Jones was injured later in the season, McCullough moved to left tackle and Steen returned to a starting guard spot.
The team will take Sunday and Monday off before resuming practice on Tuesday. The team travels to New Orleans Wednesday. ... UA held its first outdoor practice since bowl preparations began on Friday.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com or at 205-722-0196.