Things To Freak Out About for 2010: The Kicking Team

In January 2008, Alabama's special teams coach Ron Middleton announced he was leaving The Capstone to join  David Cutcliffe's staff at Duke University (the pair previously worked together at Ole Miss). Crimson Tide Head Coach Nick Saban promptly brought Bobby Williams - a veteran of his staffs at Michigan State, LSU and at the Miami Dolphins - on board to fill the vacancy.

Since then, things on special teams haven't been quite the same. Last season our own outsidethesidelines provided an excellent dissection of on particularly horrible example of kick coverage against North Texas in an early game that was, thankfully, called back by a flag. We weren't always that lucky.

For the most part, the concerns with the kicking game tend to focus on the the guy who puts his foot onto the football (and this is certainly going to be concern breaking in a new kicker next season). But while Leigh Tiffin's ability to put the pigskin into the opposing team's end zone increased, the efforts to stymie the returners seems to have stalled.

In 2008 Alabama was reasonably stingy with the average yards allowed on kick returns, coming in 82nd out of 120 FBS teams. Last year only 31 teams were worse in the same category. Not what you'd expect from one of the elite teams in the land.

Worse, the ability of the squad to react to onside kicks has been almost completely non existent. Out of five onside kicks attempted against the Crimson Tide during the last two seasons only one was recovered by Alabama - the second one tried by Georgia during the notorious "blackout" game in 2008.

Here are Alabama's kicking team numbers under Coach William's tenure (from the University of Alabama athletics department website RollTide.com):

Alabama Kicking Stats 2008-2009

Alabama Opponents
Onside Kicks 0 - 0 4 - 5
Kick returns (# - yds) 74 - 1,609
161 - 3,770
Kick return average 21.7 23.4
Kick return for TD 0 3

 

By contrast the numbers in 2007, Coach Saban's first year but the last under Coach Middleton:

Alabama Kicking Stats 2007

Alabama Opponents
Onside Kicks 1 - 2 0 - 0
Kick returns (# - yds)* 48 - 1,014
64 - 1,148
Kick return average 21.1 17.9
Kick return for TD 0 0

 

And that doesn't even include all the yellow flags we seemed to collect every time there was a solid return by one of our guys or a dominating stop of theirs. Is all this Williams fault? Probably not, but he is the person who needs to solve it. And with a brand new $15,000 raise it's unlikely he's going anywhere soon.

So while there's a lot of concern right now over who is going to be handling the kicking duties for us in 2010, I'm also really wondering if the rest of the special teams - particularly the kick off coverage and return teams - is going finally take a step forward or continue this unpleasant trend.

*the numbers in this category were incorrect in the first version of this story; showing the totals for interception returns instead of kick off returns. they have been edited to reflect the correct information. - kleph

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