About a week ago, I previewed Alabama's punting and kicking game. The Tide can expect to have a phenomenal punting game, and a kicking game that ranges from just ok to Boise State circa 2010 level bad. Coverage and returns should be a given for Alabama. Nick Saban recruits the best athletes to the Capstone year in and year out. There will always be players who can contribute on special teams as long as Saban coaches Alabama. We'll be able to take a closer look at exactly who will be contributing this year, with Monday's release of Alabama's week one depth chart.
Expect to see a lot of youth contributing on coverage. Alabama has a dearth of experienced talent on the defensive line, but linebackers and the defensive backfield do not have a lot of experienced players beyond the first team. The players who normally play in this specialized role are not 300-pound defensive ends. I expect Shaun Dion Hamilton, Shawn Burgess-Becker, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Keith Holcombe and Reuben Foster to stand out on punt and kick coverage. Foster should play on special teams in the leadership role Landon Collins filled last year. Foster has an excellent track record on special teams that most notably includes destroying Leonard Fournette.
And a dude from Ohio State.
Foster can track the returner and lay out booming hits as well as anyone in college football. Holcombe is his backup at the WILL position and has also shown ball-hawking ability in spring and fall camp. Hamilton is a rangy linebacker and a solid tackler. Burgess-Becker and Fitzpatrick are secondary guys who will be the first line of defense with their speed and athleticism. Both have been praised for their playmaking ability this fall.
Cyrus Jones will be the primary punt returner for the Tide this season. Jones is elusive, quick, fast and just about every other word you can use to describe a great athlete. Jones proved his athletic ability last season as Alabama's best corner. Even though Jones is undersized, he's been a tremendous contributor for Alabama. I expect Jones to be much more explosive than Christion Jones was the last three seasons. Christion was a consistent and reliable option - and it remains to be seen if Cyrus can provide that same consistency - but expect Cyrus to be more of a home run threat than Christion ever was.
Kenyan Drake and ArDarius Stewart will be the primary kick returners. Both of these guys are supreme athletes. Drake is a touchdown threat every time he touches the ball. If he comes back from his injury to full strength, expect to see him on some awards watchlists at the end of the season.
Stewart is another athlete in the Drake mold. Stewart is quick and possesses a lot of athleticism and speed.
Both players are the kind of athletes that can impact a game on a kick return. Alabama will have a truly dangerous return game for the first time since Javier Arenas lit up Bryant-Denny.