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Alabama Crimson Tide 2021 Spring Football Preview: Special Teams

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The Alabama special teams in the Nick Saban have been rather... special

College Football Playoff National Championship - Ohio State vs Alabama Photo by UA Athletics/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

We’re wrapping up our positional previews ahead of A-Day with a final piece on the special teams specialists. Though really a combination of 4 different units, the overall grouping has been the butt of a lot of jokes, particularly since the infamous “Game of the Century” in 2011.

For the purposes of this article, we’re definitely not going to be looking at all of the many tacklers and blockers involved, and we’ll stick to just the specialists: kicker, punter, kick returner, punt returner, and long snapper.


Departed

Jaylen Waddle

The dynamic wide receiver quickly made a name for himself as a true freshman in 2018 for his punt return abilities. He eventually took over as a kick returner as well in 2019, notably almost pulling off a win by himself in the Tide’s two losses to LSU and Auburn by sheer force of will.

His 2020 was ultimately cut short with a broken ankle, so there are a slew of other candidates who now have experience returning both kicks and punts.

Joseph Bulovas

Once a starting kicker for the Tide, Bulovas was benched in 2019, and got his job back when the guy ahead of him was injured. He then spent 2020 on the bench again, and ultimately transferred out.

Thomas Fletcher

A multi-year starter at long-snapper, Fletcher was the third in line (following Cole Mazza and Carson Tinker) of an absolutely perfect career at a position nobody should ever notice. It’s been a historical run, with each of these guys earning major accolades both as high school recruits and then as a collegiate snapper. Fletcher is going to be tough to replace.


Returning

Kickers

Will Reichard

Death, Taxes, and Alabama missing field goals. At least, until Will Reichard happened. The junior out of Hoover came to Alabama with all kinds of fanfare for being the guy who might finally solve the Tide’s kicking woes. Instead, he was injured at the start of his freshman season, and wound up missing most of 2019.

Last season, he came back in full force and only went on to have a PERFECT season, going 14/14 with a 52-yarder that was the best in years for the Tide. He also worked as a directional kickoff guy, expertly placing his kickoffs right in the corner without going out of bounds or into the endzone all season longs.

Chase Allen

A walk on from Texas, Allen split time with Reichard as the kick-off specialist for the first half of the season, but saw his attempts fall later in the season.

Punters

Charlie Scott

Scott is the younger brother of Alabama punting legend, J.K. Scott, who’s now with the Green Bay Packers. Charlie transferred to Alabama from Air Force and wound up winning the starting job after a few games into the season in 2020. He only hit 39 yards per punt on the season, but he had his best game of the season in the nail biter against Florida, pinning the Gator offense deep in their own territory a couple of times in crunch time.

Scott participated in senior day, but it seems he was granted a COVID waver and is returning for a second senior season.

Sam Johnson

The freshman walk-on in 2020 started the first few games for Alabama, but wound up benched in favor of Charlie Scott after his first 9 punts of the year only averaged 35 yards.

Ty Perine

For being a backup walk-on punter, Perine has been one of the most curious cases among Alabama fans over the last couple of seasons. When Skyler DeLong struggled in 2019, Perine seemed to appear from nowhere to take the job from him, and boomed a couple of 50+ yarders.

He gained further fame as rumors started circulating that he apparently could run forty-yard dashes with the receivers.

Perine averaged 45 yards per punt in his 13 attempts, but he also dropped a snap and shanked another punt in the loss to LSU (in between booming some 50 yarders).

2020 rolled around, and Perine didn’t get a single snap, nor was he ever really mentioned. But he was around the team all year, so it wasn’t a case of opting out. He just.... Got benched? Maybe?

In any case, Nick Saban has mentioned him already this spring as being in the competition with Scott, but still has to work on his consistency.

Returners

Slade Bolden

The 4th year do-it-all man has been the primary back-up punt returner for years now. After Waddle’s injury, Bolden took over and returned 7 punts for 49 yards. Dependable and trusted to make fair catches? Sure. But when Alabama needed a spark, DeVonta Smith went back to return punts instead.

Jahleel Billingsley

A tight end as a kick returner?? Yeah, it blew pretty much everyone’s mind when Billingsley took out a kickoff against Florida last year, and then proceeded to return 5 kicks over the final three games... To not much effect. It speaks volumes that the coaches see that much athleticism in a tight end, but will that experiment carry over into 2021?

Brian Robinson, Jr.

The 5th year senior running back has been a mainstay as the #2 return man for years now. That role is usually more of a lead blocker who’s also able to catch and run if the ball comes to him, which Robinson has filled very well over the years. I don’t expect him to become the primary return man, though.

Keilan Robinson

After opting out of 2020, KRob has made some internet waves with videos showing how much he’s muscled up his diminutive frame. He’s already a speedster that drew some attention with a couple of long breakaway runs back in 2019, and now he’s gunning to become a full-time returner

Trey Sanders

The speedy 5-star running back had worked some as a kick returner before the car crash and broken hip in 2020 cut his season short. He won’t be a factor at A-Day, but could be an option come fall

Xavier Williams

The veteran receiver was tabbed by Nick Saban as a “jack-of-all-trades” last week. Williams has been regularly listed as a back-up for punt returns the last couple of years, though we’ve yet to see it in game.

Long Snappers

The only two players on the roster, Gabe Pugh and Jake Hall, are walk-ons who were not recruited nor do they have any playing time thus far in their career. I don’t really have anything on either, though I’ve heard some beat reporters mention Pugh as having done well this spring.


Newcomers

Ga’Quincy McKinstry

“Kool-Aid” is an electric 5-star player who could be an elite receiver, defensive back, basketball player, and/or return man. He’s made waves so far this spring for his work as a 2nd team cornerback and has apparently been working a bit with the returners.

Christian Leary

A 5’10” 185 with scary good track speed and a tendency to bowling ball off of tacklers, Leary could become a kick return specialist for the Tide if they can harness his speed into a controlled, effective returner.


Predicted Depth Chart

Kicker: Will Reichard

Kick-off specialist: Will Reichard, Chase Allen

Punter: Charlie Scott, Ty Perine

Long Snapper: Gabe Pugh, Jake Hall

Kick Returner: Keilan Robinson, Brian Robinson

Punt Returner: Slade Bolden, Ga’Quincy McKinstry

The return positions won’t matter too much in A-day, as the Tide never does any live tackling on kicks and punts. However we will at least get an idea of who the coaches have in the lead at those positions by who trots out there in what order to catch them. And I expect they’ll rotate a lot more in than just these four.