Welp. It’s that time — we’re down to kickers and quarterbacks in our 2020 preview, two units with questions large and small. I’m covering both of them, since I am the resident NegaGump.
I know it’s Monday morning, but you may wanna’ swap that coffee out for an adult beverage.
Okay, maybe it’s not that bad.
Four players punted last year for the Tide — Bernier, Reichard, Perine, and DeLong. But as the old saying goes, if you’ve got four you’ve got none (must credit RBR for this homily). Walk-on Ty Perine was easily the best of the bunch, averaging 44.9 gross, per kick. DeLong was simply...not good, at just 33 yards an attempt. Mike Bernier has moved on. And I don’t think anyone wants to see Will Reichard punting, particularly coming off an injury. Both Perine and DeLong return for 2020.
Consistency was the main issue for this group, even with Perine. He had some stretches where he was booming kicks close to 50 yards, and then had entire games where he was squibbly and barely into the 30s.
For the season, Alabama averaged just 39.1 yards per kick...that’s gross yardage. We talked about Alabama’s punt coverage last week, how it wasn’t up to its customary excellence. Low-line drives going 34 yards has that effect. The Tide finished 101st in the country in punting as was dead last in the SEC. That’s right — even Vandy and Arkansas were better.
Okay, while there were some mixed results in the punting game, the same can not be said about the placekicking. We have just one good piece of news reviewing 2019: Touchbacks by one player.
Where do we start?
Those missed extra points. Ugh. Since 2007, the Tide has missed 98 of them, by far the most of anyone in the country.
Alabama was just 66.7% on field goal attempts — tied for 93rd with such luminaries as Rice and Georgia State (still better than Clemson though!) Those results would be 12th out of 14 in the SEC. And, pals, you don’t want your beloved Tahd to be mentioned in the same breath as Kentucky and Ole Miss football. Basketball and baseball respectively? Sure. Football?
Then the Tide’s stud-in-waiting Will Reichard got hurt. While he had his growing pains, the kid has a strong leg. Through five games, he put 78% of his kickoffs (22 of 29) into the endzone — among the best in the country. Two of those 7 he didn’t put into the endzone? He put them out of bounds. Wild Thang!
As the kickoff stats attest, Reichard’s leg is a double-edged sword. He had a long of 49, which is outstanding for a freshman. But, he was 0-fer on 30-39 yards (0-1), just .500 on kicks attempted from 40-49 yards (2-4) and finished the year just 4-of-7 (57%) on all attempts. And he missed an extra point, natch.
Joseph Bulovas found himself manning most of the kicking duties thereafter. And the results weren’t especially better. In the field position war, he only had a 17% touchback rate, and averaged 5.5 yards less than Reichard there. Yes, yes, I know. He’s more of a hang-time and directional kicker. (That’s why it’s a good thing Alabama’s return coverage teams were the second in the nation in 2019! They had to be.)
Bulovas was the far steadier performer as a placekicker. He did hit 72.7% of his kicks, the best since Adam Griffith’s second-team All-SEC performance in 2015 and on par with Papa Nasty (what a depressing stat). But, Joseph was just 95% on PATs, and predictably missed a pair of his own. He was also all over the place on accuracy. His longest kick was 43 yards, which you would expect from Alabama’s directional kicker. But he missed inside of 30, inside of 40, and inside of 49. There was no logic to when the ball would go through the uprights.
Three players are vying for time to win the field position battle for an Alabama offense that is apt to take a step back in some respects.
Skyler DeLong returns, and perhaps the yips are out of his system. The former Sailer Kicking Camp winner is JK Scott clone just waiting to be unleashed. But, it’s hard to overlook those shanks and those woeful 33-yards per attempt
Speaking of Mr. Scott, his brother is a grad transfer to the Tide from Air Force Academy. Charlie Scott was a 2 1⁄2 year starter for the Falcons (he had an injury-shortened season in 2018), where he averaged just under 41 yards per punt. Do not look for those numbers to replicated at Bryant Denny, with its humid air and much lower altitude. AFA is the second-highest altitude in college football and among its driest; there’s a reason Utah punters have cleaned up on the Ray Guy Award...undeservedly. Ask Tom Brady how much a little extra air pressure can help!
The incumbent, and new fan favorite from Prattvegas, Ty Perine also returns. Perine had some legitimately great kicks last year, and he took the reins down the stretch for the punting team. But, as noted above, he must improve his consistency. Booming the ball for 46 yards a game for three games, and then following that up with a pair of games where he’s kicking under 38 yards-per, isn’t how to play the percentages game. (And, FTR, you should almost never punt unless you have a game-changing weapon back. But, we’ll let Nick be Nick on this one.). Barring a collapse, or a sudden metamorphosis of one of the other contenders, Perine is probably your man.
Last season, even before he got injured, we saw Alabama experiment with a two-kicker system, where Bulovas took some kickoffs and took some XPA, while Reichard was breaking himself in as the placekicking starter.
I would expect to see something like that again this year. Injured kickers frequently take an entire season to get back to par. We saw it with Adam Griffith; we even saw it with punting candidate Charlie Scott. Building up confidence in Reichard will be a critical goal of the coaching staff.
But, for now, despite Reichard’s superior leg, I think you give the nod to Bulovas on those short and intermediate kicks. And, despite having the weaker leg, I think you give him the kickoffs too. No, he doesn’t have a cannon attached to his hips, but the return coverage and hang-time makes up for it. And, yes, Reichard’s health matters too. That is a very stressful play for recovering placekickers. The experience Bulovas has, his steadier results, and the improvements he made from year-one-to-year-two would make him my leader going into the clubhouse. That said, don’t look for any one player to do it all in 2020. And there will be situations where a different type of kicker is required (say, a 53-yard attempt on the road: we’ll almost certainly see Reichard).
Caveat: All of this is my firm belief unless Reichard has become a healthy, confident, and especially a more accurate kicker leaving the infirmary than he was going into it. That is about the only way that I don’t see a two-kicker rotation.
I know this unit preview may have come off as critical. I’m not trying to be snarky about unpaid college kids earning their degree for our amusement. I am merely expressing a sardonic resignation that Alabama fans have come to expect when a kick is needed. It’s not personal, truly. Though, we have to admit, Alabama not having a good punting game is just queer and alien. It’s very un-Alabama.
2020 PREDICTED DEPTH CHART
Punter: Perine (Scott P2, DeLong P3)
Kicker: Bulovas (splitting time with Reichard on situational kicking)
Who will win PK duties, and will he hit more than 75% of his FGA’s in 2020?
This poll is closed
Francis, the kicking mule
Never. Ever. Kick.
Who will be Alabama’s punter by the end of the year?
This poll is closed
JK Scott dressing up in Charlie’s uniform and bailing out his alma mater.