Nick Saban's tenure at Alabama has yielded one of the most fruitful periods in Crimson Tide History. Coach Saban has put together some of Alabama's--and the nation's--top units, from the All-World defense of 2011 to the record-setting offense of 2014.
There is one unit, though, that seems to consistently hurt the Tide in crucial moments: special teams. Alabama's special teams has been the linchpin of numerous losses during the Saban era, whether its 2011's 'Game of the Century' or the 2013 Iron Bowl. The 2015 season is a bit of an unknown for the Tide. JK Scott is a proven commodity, but there are questions concerning the place-kicking.
JK Scott is the best punter in college football. Period. Scott attempted every punt for the Tide in 2014, and Scott led the nation in Yards per Punt with an average of 48 YPP. For perspective, Scott's average would have led the NFL were he in the league.
Thanks to Scott, Alabama ranked fourth in Football Outsiders' Punt Efficiency rating and 14th in FO's Opposing Starting Field Position metric, despite below-average rankings in FO's Starting Field Position and Kickoff Efficiency numbers. That means JK Scott singlehandedly saved Alabama's special teams from having a truly disastrous season.
Scott's ability to flip the field gives Alabama a much-needed luxury in 2015 with the questions surrounding the offense. In case you never witnessed the otherworldly power contained in Scott's right leg, here is a video from YouTuber Chris McCulley.
And, if you're inclined, check out this video of his 73-yard bomb against Ohio State.
Alabama's kicking deficiencies lay at the feet (literally) of Adam Griffith. Whether or not his poor run of form is his fault (looking at you Kick Six) is another topic entirely. The fact of the matter is that, with Griffith as Alabama's primary kicker, the Crimson Tide special teams unit has not met expectations.
Alabama ranked 100th out of 128 teams in FO's field goal efficiency last season and 75th in kickoff efficiency. Griffith found his target on only 63% of his place kicks last season and has made only 61% of his place kicks over his career.
There are extenuating factors in each situation for Griffith. He dealt with an injury for the majority of last season. Placing 100% of the blame for poor kickoff numbers on Griffith is unfair. Kick coverage is an 11-man ordeal. But at the end of the day, no other player on the kickoff team can impact the outcome of the play more than the kicker. Touchbacks and kicks that combine high levels of distance and hang time are a kicker's best friends.
Griffith will have one more season to prove that he is the man for the job. Star kicking transfer/recruit Eddie Pineiro is ineligible for the 2015 season. Pineiro has excited Tide fans with his videos of 70+ yard field goals. The same cannot be said of Griffith.
Gunnar Raborn is the backup kicker. Raborn will provide depth in case Griffith goes down or under performs at some point this season.
This is the first of two installments in the special teams preview. We will take a look at the returns teams and coverage units once the depth chart is released so we have a clearer picture of who will man those units.