Special teams, as the old saw goes, is one third of the game. In terms of snaps, that is not true of course, but how many times have we seen the momentum of a game quickly reverse course off a quick score, after blocking a kick, or blowing up a return-man?
Special teams can be what decides championships.
From national titles...
To divisional crowns...
If you watch football to see the improbable unfold before your eyes, the real fireworks are on the special teams.
It is no secret that Alabama was one of the forerunners of not throwing scrubs on the special teams units; its best players are usually on the field during these most important plays.
So, for all the #CollegeKicker jokes you want to uncork, Alabama special teams have usually been outstanding in more than one phase. Here’s who we’re honoring and why. Thurday’s installment will cover the kickers.
Christion Jones, All-Around Specialist
Every time No. 22 fielded the ball, we all held our breath...but it wasn’t always for the right reason.
That is a true testament to the explosion that he was capable of unleashing, with the speed and open-field moves to take any kick 100 yards before fans could even process the Tide’s last possession. Utterly fearless, Jones always kept his eyes at the opposing end zone and made quick decisions of where he was going before the ball even arrived. Then, with no hesitation, he turned upfield and accelerated.
It was a beautiful thing to behold.
But, the problem with explosions is that they sometimes do as much damage to you as to your opponent. And, like T.J. Yeldon, it would be disingenuous to discuss Jones’ skills with also discussing those unforced errors. Jones did have three career punt muffs and lost four career fumbles on special teams — the worst game coming against Ole Miss in 2015 that helped lead to 14 cheap points for the Rebels. Still, at a position that requires fearlessness and quick decisions, return play is often feast-or-famine. And, Jones contributed far more than he was a liability.
For his career, Jones scored five total touchdowns on special teams: Three kick-return scores (long 94-yards vs. Ole Miss) and two punt return scores (long 76 vs. West Virginia). He averaged almost 11 yards per punt reception and almost 26 per kickoff return. Alongside Cyrus Jones, he is the only Saban returner to score two return touchdowns in a game.
Christion wasn’t a one-trick pony either.
See, Jones makes this list for two separate reasons, as he was one the best, if not fully-appreciated, all-around special teamers we’ve seen over the last dozen years. Jones was also the gunner on the Tide’s special teams units. Over four years of play on special teams — three as a starter, he recorded 17 solo tackles and added another four assisted tackles. He even forced a fumble on a kick return and blocked an extra point. For that, he is our second-team underappreciated coverage returner.
Some people just love to show off.
Jones has carved out a very nice career for himself as a return specialist in the CFL — he was the third-leading return man in the league this season. And, following a knee injury in October, Jones re-signed this winter with the defending Grey Cup-champion Edmonton Eskimos.
Runner-Up Return Specialist: Marquise Maze. Marquis never finished lower than 3rd in the SEC in punt return yards, per-return average, or total punt returns. He even finished 2nd in the NCAA in YPA average in 2011. That same year, he finally netted his sole return score. Maze finished second all-time in Alabama history with 12.7 YPA, behind only the incomparable Javier Arenas.
Coverage Man, Ale Kaho
There are a lot of gunners and headhunters and kick-blocking beasts you could put here over the years. Special teams has sort of become Alabama’s thing, in ways large and small, good and ill. And usually the players who are grinding hard every day in practice to crack the starting 22 are the ones who are also difference-makers on special teams. Perhaps no one embodies that quite like Ale Kaho.
The entering Jr. linebacker/H-back has been simply astonishing on Alabama’s special teams units. While he doesn’t have the gaudy tackling numbers of a guy like Shane Lee or Christion Jones, when Kaho steps on the field, he is a 100%, shot-out-of-the-cannon playmaker.
Last season, Kaho was named the Tide’s Special Team player of the week on four separate occasions in 2019. He had three blocked punts — and not against scrubs either: two came in SEC play and one was against Michigan. Two of his blocks came in back-to-back weeks. As a freshman he forced one fumble, recovered another, and was named an Alabama Special Team POTW on two more occasions.
More frighteningly for Alabama opponents, many of Kaho’s blocks aren’t even arising out of called pressure — it’s just his solo hustle:
“Craziest thing is some of his blocks don’t even be (bonsai block calls) or when we’re trying to blitz,” Mayden said. “It’s just, he just kind of goes and blows up the shield and it works for him. That’s just crazy to me. The shield will be like a 275-pound O-line or D-lineman. Kaho’s like 215. That goes back to what I was saying. He’s giving 110 percent effort.”
...And it added to that reputation as a headhunter on those Crimson Tide special teams units.
“When he hits somebody, you’re going to know,” Mayden said. “You’re going to hear it. The other dude’s going to feel it. And he’s going to put energy through the whole team.”
Wherever Kaho goes, he goes quickly; he goes violently; and, he goes all out....And we get to keep him for two more years. #Blessed.
Runner Up Coverage Man: Christion Jones, see above.
Special Teams Coach, Bobby Williams
For the better part of two decades, Bobby Williams and Nick Saban were joined at the hip at four separate stops. Where Saban went, Williams followed. And, after a disastrous tenure leading the Michigan State Spartans, Saban again invited Williams back into the fold.
During his time at Alabama, Williams coached wideouts, tight ends, and special teams. Though his work with the tight ends is probably the most notable, during his decade-long stay in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide had two Ray Guy Award finalists, a Lou Groza Award finalist, four All-American kickers, punters, and return men who earned a total of six All-American awards.
His Alabama units blocked 33 kicks, finished no lower than 7th in KR yards allowed, no lower than 11th in PR yards allowed, led the nation in KR yards allowed on 6 occasions; led the nation in PR yards allowed on 4 occasions; and led the nation in special teams touchdowns in 2016. Of his 10 teams, 7 finished in the Top 20 in PR yards gained — four times Alabama was inside the Top 10, and of his 10 teams, 4 finished in the Top 20 in KR yards gained.
For all the woes fans gave this guy about missed kicks, Williams plainly didn’t stink at his job.