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Playing 'Bama Ball

On Monday, a reporter asked Coach Frank Beamer to define "Beamer Ball." Beamer’s namesake brand of football, he said, was about being able to score “whether it’s the offense, defense or special teams.”

The Crimson Tide can claim to have its own variation of that style. Call it ’Bama Ball.

No. 5 Alabama, which takes on the No. 7 Hokies in Atlanta on Saturday, has one of the nation’s most potent threats on punt and kick returns in Javier Arenas. He is the active NCAA leader in career punt returns (93), punt return yards (1,259) and touchdowns (6).

Arenas, a senior, is dangerous each time he touches the ball, and he poses one of the most difficult matchup problems for Virginia Tech. Even if the Hokies blanket the field, it is tough to stop a runner with Arenas’s vision and shiftiness.

“You’ve just got to be good in your coverage lanes,” Beamer said. “You get out of your lane against a guy like this and he’s going to make you miss. He’s excellent.”

Arenas came to Tuscaloosa to play defense. He started to emerge as a cornerback last season, finishing with 63 tackles, seven pass break-ups and an interception he returned 63 yards for a touchdown. But he is still known for his play on special teams.

In fact, his career has been largely defined by that play. Arenas has taken exception to being known primarily as a return man. He said he did not like the label.

“I don’t know where you got that,” Arenas told reporters this summer. “I came in to play cornerback. I didn’t come here to return punts.”

But Arenas has returned punts. And he has done it well.

Few games illustrated Arena’s importance to Alabama than last year’s meeting with Tulane. He set a school record with 212 return yards. Arenas showed his elusiveness with a scintillating 87-year punt return for a touchdown. He fielded the punt and moved into a trap of four oncoming defenders. He seemed done, but then bounced off the first would-be tackler, spun around and avoided the next wave of Tulane players. That is when he saw a seam, cut up field and outran everybody.

“We’ve got all of his returns on one reel,” Beamer said. “And that’s a big reel.”

Beamer and the Hokies are hoping that Arenas does not add to his highlight footage on Saturday.

By Mark Viera  |  September 2, 2009; 3:52 PM ET
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