Alabama has been unable to catch a break in the special teams department the past few years: when the kicking is good, the punting has been a little wobbly; when the punt returns have excelled, the kick returns have not; when the return game has been explosive, the return coverage has taken a step back.
This season, Alabama looks to finally excel in four phases of special teams under a new dedicated position coach, former Director of Ops, Joe Pannunzio — the hopes are high that returns, coverage, punting and placekicking will finally all gel in one season, at the same time, and maybe even in the same game!
We covered the return specialists in the first installment. Today, we look at the kickers and punters.
Adam Griffith (Placekicker)
Adam Griffith played all of his four seasons on campus, and, man, did he see some things. If you want a barometer of his time on campus just think about that fact that he went from a true freshman missing a 56-yard would-be-winning kick in the Game of Which We Do Not Speak, a kick that would have all-but sealed a national title appearance for Alabama, to going 5-for-5 against that same team two years later in a very close road win...a win that sent Alabama to the SEC Championship and eventually the 2015 playoffs and national championship.
In between that time, he spent a year with an injured back, won three SEC titles, was instrumental in several close wins (most notably in 2015,) won a national title, and was named Second Team All-SEC. Griffith was, however, merely average, ranking T-68th in FG efficiency for his career — out of 140 kickers. He made 57 of his 82 kicks, 70% for a career, with 2016 being his most consistent season (75%.) He was steadier, if not always pretty, on PATs, netting 186 of 188 over 4 years. Besides accounting for 357 points over his career, Griffith could be a devastating weapon in the kickoff game when he was permitted to seek the endzone. This season netted a touchback on nearly half of his 99 kickoffs (48 for 48.8%) and in 2015 was good for a 55% rate (55 of 100.) Griffith finshed as the second-leading scorer in Alabama’s storied history, so you can win a bet at the bar with that little nugget of useless information.
Cole Mazza (Long Snapper)
Another four-year player, and true four-year starter, long snapper Cole Mazza will hopefully not be as big as a loss as it would appear. Through his career, he graded out perfectly in snapping situations, never having a bad snap attributed to him (although, there were two games this season where it did appear the error was on him.) Those overlooking this three-time All-SEC performer should ask Michigan what it’s like when you have to worry about about long snapper: One bad play can derail an entire season. Mazza may be one of just four LS prospects in the modern era to hear his name called in the NFL draft; nevertheless, he is poised for a very long NFL career.
JK Scott (Punter)
JK Scott was back to his freshman form last season, after a sophomore campaign in which he was injured visibly hindered his performance. This past year Scott was second in the nation averaging 48.4 yards per punt in the regular season (withough the benefit of mile-high air at Utah’s Rice Eccles Stadium.) Though he was disgracefully left off the Ray Guy ballot in 2016, he was the runner-up as a true freshman and should be back in the mix this season — since the nominating committee had to go out of its way to explain away the omission of Scott from the 2016 ballot. Scott is backed up by long-time reserve, Gunnar Raborn.
Andy Pappanastos (PK)
Andy Pappanastos, a Montgomery (AL) transfer from Ole Miss, was perfect on his kicking attempts last season, going 1-for-1 on field goals & 6-for-6 on PATs. He also averaged 57 yards on his two kickoffs, but did not register a touchback. There is no true incumbent at placekicker, so Pappanastos will get a look in Spring and Fall camp and have a chance to compete for the starting job. The PK competition may even linger throughout the early portion of the season as Pannunzio and Saban settle on a kicker rotation.
Thomas Fletcher (Long Snapper)
Thomas Fletcher, like Cole Mazza before him, is the nation’s No. 1 long snapper and the winner of the Rubio Long/Thomas Sailor award as the nation’s outstanding player at the position. Fletcher, like Mazza, is also listed as a guard and entered NSD2017 as a three-star prospect. Alabama has had great success with the position, and there is no reason to suspect that Thomas Fletcher will do anything other than live up to the 8-year string of excellence the Tide have had under Carson Tinker and Cole Mazza.
Joseph Bulovas (PK)
After Ruiz abandoned the Tide to stay with his hometown Arizona State Sun Devils, the Tide were left scrambling for a placekicker, there not being one signed or one really available in the 2017 Class. For Bulovas that was pleasant serendipity struck, as it paved the way for the Mandeville (LA) product to sign with his dream school. Bulovas is a three-star prospect and has great size for a place kicker at six-feet and 210 pounds. The US Army All-America has a leg to match the size, being able to consistently nail 55-yarders and under, and has even hit a few 70-yarders in practice. The one-time Georgia Tech commit will almost certainly be in the mix this fall when he enrolls as a blueshirt.
Unlike a lot of units this spring, there shouldn’t be many surprises in the kicking game starters when the season rolls around — even if Pappanastos wins the PK job.
LS: Thomas Fletcher
Punter: J.K. Scott
PK: Andy Pappanastos starts, owing to his experience and Joseph Bulovas serves as the kickoff specialist in a series of rotating starts. Bulovas later earns the job with greater consistency on long field goals. (How’s that for specificity?)