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2018 Alabama Football Unit Previews: The Specialists

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Going into the season, the kicking game is that proverbial box of chocolates.

Alabama fans have grown accustomed to biting nails any time a kicker walks out onto the field, and the last Alabama attempt in the national title game did nothing to assuage those fears. We will now start anew with a placekicking battle between a redshirt freshman and a grad transfer coming off of a medical redshirt for an ACL injury, while also replacing the best punter in school history with a true freshman.

Have you ordered your case of Maalox yet?

The Kickers

#97 Joseph Bulovas, RS Fr.

NCAA Football: Alabama A-Day Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Bulovas was part of a recruiting merry-go-round in the 2017 cycle. The longtime Georgia Tech commit flipped to Alabama upon receiving an offer after former Tide commit Brandon Ruiz decided to take his talents to Tempe. Young Joseph reportedly needed a little time with Coach Scott Cochran before he’d be ready to play full time, paving the way for Andy Pappanastos to take the short placekicking duties while JK Scott handled the kickoffs and long stuff in 2017. Bulovas hails from Mandeville, LA and obviously has no college stats to report, but he did post a solid 5-of-7 in the spring game.

#29 Austin Jones, Sr.

NCAA Football: Temple at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Jones had outstanding sophomore and junior campaigns, nailing a robust 33-of-40 field goal attempts (82.5%) before injuring his ACL during the 2016 (junior) season. He came back last season in a bit role, as a true freshman had Wally Pipp’d him by earning 2016 all-conference honors in his stead. Jones made 4-of-5 attempts last season in only four games of action, and was granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA.

At this point there seems to be little consensus in terms of which kicker has looked better in camp. In fact, both players reportedly made exactly two of three attempts in the last scrimmage. The staff seems pleased with both and there have been rumblings that some sort of rotation is on the table. Perhaps adding former college kicker Jeff Banks as the special teams coordinator will help maintain consistency that has been lacking in the past.

The Punter

#10 Skyler DeLong, Fr.

There is no competition at punter, as true freshman Skyler DeLong out of Fort Mill, SC has been handed the reins over a couple of walk-ons. The young man certainly has a leg, though inevitable comparisons to the Howitzer attached to Scott will be wholly unfair. He reportedly averaged 48 yards per punt in an early camp practice session but there have been reports a of inconsistency in the scrimmages, which is to be expected from a freshman.

The Long Snapper

#45 Thomas Fletcher, So.

Hey, if we don’t give the long snapper a little love, who will? By all accounts, Fletcher had a highly successful freshman campaign and looks to be a stalwart for the next three seasons. Plus, as seen above, he just set a world record for the longest snap. Long snapping national champions, Pawwwwlll.

The Returners

It’s always tough to project which of the dynamic skill athletes Alabama has on the roster, many of whom returned kicks and punts in high school, will be offered an opportunity by a head coach who views turnovers less favorably than stepped-on Little Debbies. Saban did go on record recently to say that the team needed to get more out of the return game, and credited Banks with making an early impact to that end. Based on what we know from camp, it will likely come down to one of three players.

#7 Trevon Diggs, Jr.

CFP National Championship presented by AT&T - Alabama v Georgia Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Diggs is the veteran of this grouping and will likely have the most trust, though he has muffed a couple in previous seasons. Diggs hasn’t really had the opportunity to flash his athleticism in this role, mostly calling for the fair catch as teams employ various strategies to keep Alabama from picking up easy scores. All indications are that he will be counted on heavily in a perilously thin secondary this season, which may play a role in the decision.

Henry Ruggs III, So.

CFP National Championship presented by AT&T - Alabama v Georgia Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Ruggs was lightning as a punt returner in high school, and got to flash his incredible speed on offense last season. He got some action in the return game as well, returning 13 kicks for 18.4 yards per, and 8 punts for 5.8. He will certainly be a factor here.

Jaylen Waddle, Fr.

This is the name to watch. Often compared to Arizona Cardinals rookie Christian Kirk, the diminutive Waddle is as explosive as they come. Playing out of the slot in the most recent scrimmage, Waddle had his way with the Alabama secondary. He was a superstar in the return game in high school, and will likely make his mark here before all is said and done.

Running back Josh Jacobs will likely be one of the primary kickoff returners, a role he held last season. Xavian Marks may get some action at one or both positions, but his role is likely to be minor.