Special teams play last year was, for the abiding majority of the season, excellent. Cyrus Jones and Kenyan Drake were terrors in the return department, Adam Griffith rebounded from an early season swoon to be named Second Team All-SEC, and JK Scott mostly shook off some early year malaise to punt more consistently down the stretch.
And, as Saban constantly preaches, it is about growth and development: Last season the Tide improved nearly every game down the stretch, with special teams play having its magnum opus in the College Football Playoff championship game, where an onside kick recovery by Marlon Humphrey would completely change the momentum of the game, and a kick return touchdown by Kenyan Drake would seal the Tide's 16th title.
This year, there will be room for improvement and room for new stars to shine, though who will lead the Special Teams is anyone's guess, with Bobby Williams' departure to an administrative coaching role.
JK Scott (Jr.)
70 att., 44.8 average, long 59. 1 xpa, 1 xpm. 0-1 FGA.
For all the hue and cry about J.K. Scott's "bad" season, it wasn't markedly worse than his stellar freshman campaign, where Scott would average 48.0 ypa. As the season wore on, the "old" Scott was more evident, save one notably terrible shank in a third quarter against A&M where the wheels seemed to be falling apart for most of the Tide.
Enjoy this kid, who some call "the best on the planet," this season -- he will certainly receive an excellent draft grade if his form and consistency is back to 2014's level of play. Now, will he go pro after three seasons? That's anyone's guess, but he would almost certainly be the first punter off the board should he choose to do so.
He is backed up by Sophomore Brandon Satterfield who, truth be told, will only see the field in the most grizzly of blowouts or if there is (god forbid) an injury concern to Scott. Next year, Brandon. Next year.
Adam Griffith (RS Sr.)
23 of 32 (23 of 28 from October,) long 55 (2nd longest in school history,) 62 XPA, 62 XPM
Averaged 63.8 yards per kickoff, with 56 touchbacks, SEC Special Teams player of the week vs. LSU, Auburn. Second team All-SEC.
I love Adam Griffith, the unflappable Polish orphan who has spent a long time on campus and has seen a lot of football, collecting 36 starts in his time on campus. Griffith was the Tide's deep-kick and kickoff specialist in 2013
AND THAT'S ALL WE'RE SAYING ABOUT THAT SEASON. In 2014, as the full-time starter, Griffith started off super hot, in fact he was perfect for the first third of the season, then he faded down the stretch. That inconsistency, as we later discovered, was a lower back issue, and despite the pain, Adam played most of that season injured. A bad back is not the optimal injury situation for a kicker.
Last year began with seemingly more of the same as Griffith missed his first five kicks. However, he rebounded very nicely beginning with Georgia, where he would have a perfect 4-for-4 showing. That would not be an anomaly either, as Griffith was perfect on his kick attempts in eight total games last seasons, including a magnificent 5-for-5 redemption performance on the road in Auburn. He has a cannon for a leg, and can easily rack up touchbacks, which is a field position weapon in a conference where the likes of Tennessee's Evan Berry and A&M's Christian Kirk can scorch kick teams. Griffth is a steady, veteran presence the Tide sorely needs for an offense that may rely on him early as it gets its sea legs.
He is backed up reserve Jr. Gunnar Raborn and Ole Miss RS Jr. transfer Andy Pappanastos. Next year may feature a kicking battle, but of the two, Pappanastos has the most inherent talent and will likely win the job. Do not be surprised to see all three Tide PKs get time this season as Saban gets an early preview of Griffith's replacement (that's one of the reasons the Tide have Kent State and UT-Chattanooga on the schedule, after all.)
We've speculated/covered this a few times, but your lead returner is almost certainly going to be the 5'9", 155-pound track phenom, Xavian Marks. Back when he signed, I wrote:
Marks, a three-star prospect, confirmed with BamaOnline that he has received a football scholarship to attend Alabama and will also run track.
Marks, a one-time New Mexico State commit, has been working with Alabama’s Director of Player Personnel Jody Wright in recent days to get the logistics worked out.
The kid has some serious speed, running a 10.39/100 meters. That is Olympic stuff. Marks will play for the Tide and also compete with Bama's ever-improving Track & Field team.
OWB chimed in earlier this summer on Marks, as well:
The diminutive sophomore from Texas isn’t just fast, mind you. He’s Olympics-fast, clocking in at 10.39 in the 100 meters in high school. We’re talking Barry Allen, Wally West type of speed. He also runs track for the Crimson Tide, and with the possible exception of defensive back Tony Brown, is probably the fastest member of the Alabama football team.
His speed is ridiculous, and he has enough shimmy-shake to slip through small holes before turning on the afterburners.
While the return game was not a part of the A-Day game plan this spring, one need only watch a little of Marks’ high school tape to see just how effective the sophomore can be as a punt returner this fall. With sure hands (he has been used in the spring as a receiving option out of the slot and back field), Marks is sure to make an impact and flip the field in favor of the Tide.
Alabama used him a little on slip screens through the spring, as his stature allows him to get lost behind Alabama’s behemoth linemen to great effect. But it is as a return man that Marks will likely make his biggest impact, as the kind of God-given speed that he has makes him tailor-made to be an explosive weapon on special teams.
Other options include Tony Brown, assuming he is out of the doghouse following his four-game hiatus to begin the season, ArDarius Stewart (the fastest offensive player,) as well as a player that we feel also has potential in the return game, incoming Tulsa freshman Joshua Jacobs.
In our running back preview, we praised Jacobs' elusiveness and straight line speed, both of which are necessary assets in the return game.
For the immediate future, Jacobs most probable role is in the kicking game and on special teams. He has very soft hands, and is particularly dangerous in the passing game. It was those hands, and his world class speed in Tulsa, that brought him from an unknown to suddenly being courted by major programs like Alabama and Oklahoma on the eve of signing day. He is listed at 5'11, 200 pounds with the oh-so-familiar 4.40/40 speed. He may actually have that speed though.
Cole Mazza (Sr.)
Cole Mazza is without a doubt the best long-snapper in the nation, and has been quietly excellent for years following in Carson Tinker's footsteps. He is listed as the No. 1 LS on the board by every draft evaluator, and will be taken in the low- to mid-rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft. Safe to say, Alabama is more than settled at the position, with Jr. Jacob Parker the next man up.
Roll Tide. Tomorrow we showcase inside linebackers and a lot of new faces on a great unit. Finally, our unit preview concludes on Friday when we get to the yearly fight: Who will be Alabama's quarterback?