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September 18, 2012

Sneaky defense keeps offense sharp

TUSCALOOSA | There is a standing rule on the football practice field at the University of Alabama: If you have a ball in your hands, beware.

It can happen at any time, before a play, during or after. The Crimson Tide defense looks to strip the ball, and ballcarriers have to prevent them from doing it.

"Even if it's after the play and you're going back to the huddle, they're going to try and take it," running back Eddie Lacy said.

So when safety Robert Lester (who Lacy calls "a sneaky one") waits until after the play and sneaks up from behind the runner and pops the ball from his hand, the one who loses the ball is responsible.

"It's not fair, but our coaches don't care about fair. They just care about the ball," Lacy said.

Alabama does indeed care about ball security. UA cares so much, in fact, that the Crimson Tide is tied for first in the nation in turnover margin at plus-11. That's 12 turnovers gained and one lost through three games, with the lone lost fumble by Alabama coming on the last play of the first half of the season opener against Michigan. UA hasn't thrown an interception.

How Alabama has managed to hold onto the ball so well comes back in large part to a defensive effort to improve its ability to create turnovers. Defensive players are so intent on getting the ball in practice that offensive players have become ultra aware of security.

"I think ball security with our offensive players is something that we emphasize just as much," UA coach Nick Saban said. "I do think that it does help that the defense is always trying to get the ball off of them, so they're conscious all the time of protecting the ball."

What's the secret to ball security?

"Just being aware, staying aware," Lacy said. "The defense at practice, they're going to try to take the ball whenever they can."

It's not just the defense, either. Scott Cochran, UA's strength and conditioning coach, also gets in on the act. He roams the practice field and often creeps up on the running backs to swipe the ball from them individual drills.

"He gets you right when you least expect it," Lacy said. "We'll watch out for him the whole time, but then you'll kind of forget about him and then he'll just pop up and hit the ball out. It's fun for him."

When the running backs lose the ball, however, it's not fun for them.

"Whenever we do, we don't like to go back to the coaches, I know that," Lacy said. "Let's just say we hear a lot of things we don't want to after fumbling the ball."

Running backs aren't alone in being picked on over losing the football. At Alabama, ball security is for everyone.

"That is one thing that we practice every day," wideout Christion Jones said. "Ball security for the running backs, the quarterbacks, the wide receivers. Even when the defense gets a turnover, it's ball security too because we don't want to get a turnover and then turn it over again."

Carter denied

Former Alabama wide receiver Duron Carter's application for a hardship waiver from the NCAA, which would have made him eligible to play for Florida Atlantic this season, has been denied, according to fauowlaccess.com. That will keep the son of former All-Pro receiver Cris Carter on the sideline for the Owls' game against Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday, and for the remainder of the season. Carter was on Alabama's 2011 team but never appeared in a game because of academic and disciplinary issues. He transferred to Florida Atlantic over the summer and hoped to be granted a waiver from the NCAA rule requiring transfers to sit out one season of eligibility.

Carter has attended four schools in the last four years, Ohio State (2009), Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College (2010), Alabama (2011) and now Florida Atlantic.

Reach Tommy Deas at tommy@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0224.



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