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Alabama 2022 Spring Football Preview: WANTED - Consistent Special Teams

The Crimson Tide STs were not great in 2021.

Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Cincinnati v Alabama
James Burnip #86 and Will Reichard #16 are back.
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Special teams had a less than stellar campaign in 2021. Almost every faction had inconsistent performances and need overhauls.


  • Kickoff returner Jameson Williams (10 ret, 352 yds, 35.20 avg, 2 TD) and Slade Bolden (5 ret, 67 yds, 13.40 avg) are both off to the NFL. Bolden also returned 15 punts for 99 yards.
  • Walk-on and former starting punter Ty Perine has reportedly hung up the cleats after seeing no game action over the past two seasons.
  • Holder/QB Paul Tyson has transferred to Arizona State.
  • Special teams coach Drew Svoboda was moved (demoted?) to a support staff job.
  • Reserve punter Sam Johnson is in the Transfer Portal and off the roster.


  • Punter
  • Holder
  • Punt returner
  • Kickoff returner



  • Will Reichard is back again. Despite reports, he is not a seventh year senior. He will begin his fourth season in Tuscaloosa this fall with a possible Super-Senior season in 2023. He has done it all in crimson and white: kick field goals and extra points, kicked off, and punted. Nick Saban seems reluctant to allow the Hoover native to take on all duties for the team but he is capable. Reichard was 14 of 14 in field goals in 2020. Last season, he doubled his attempts but made only 22 of 28. His misses: Mercer 34, Tenn 54, LSU 49, Ark 47, Cincy 44, UGA 48 blocked (too soon?). His extra point string was snapped in November against LSU - his only miss of the year (71 of 72) - on what looked like a Tyson mishandle as Bama escaped with a 20-14 win.
  • Saban finally bent to peer pressure and went out and got himself an Ozzie punter. Too bad it was James Burnip. He was signed in June and instantly anointed the starter for some reason. Coming from Australia, Burnip had never played a game of football before taking the field in Atlanta against Miami. He learned to punt by training with Prokick Australia. Even though he averaged a pedestrian 38.3 yards per kick, no other punter on the roster was given an opportunity. Alabama was 124th in the nation out of 130 FBS teams in punting yard average in 2021.
  • After Jack Martin averaged 46.1 yards per punt on 25 boots in 2020 for Troy, he transferred to Alabama with high hopes in 2021. However, he ended up last year with nary a single punt attempt in a game. Instead, he converted a 29-yard field goal against New Mexico State and had a handful of kickoffs throughout the season. Baffling.
  • Walk-on kickers Chase Allen and Reid Schuback also return. Allen performed kickoff duties in several 2020 games but did not see the field in 2021. Schuback did not play last year as a freshman.


  • Reichard kicked off 106 times. He had four land out of bounds - third most in the nation - which gives the opponent the ball at the 35 yard line. His touchback percentage was 55.66, 48th best. Martin kicked off five times with three touchbacks and one out-of-bounds.


  • WR JoJo Earle returned 16 punts for 88 yards at 5.5 ypr - a yard less than Bolden. His technique needs some honing.
  • WR Ja’Corey Brooks returned one punt last season for 19 yards. He may be a candidate in 2022.
  • WR Christian Leary could get a look at returning kicks.


  • Coleman Hutzler is the new special teams coordinator.
  • Early enrollee WR Aaron Anderson had 20 career return touchdowns in high school. He returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in the 2021 season opener.
  • Last season, APB Jahmyr Gibbs returned 23 kickoffs for 589 yards, an average of 25.6 yards, which was good for 23rd in the nation. Take into account that he had Yeller Jackets blocking for him. He also took one to the house against Boston College.


JK Scott spoiled us. Over the span of his four seasons at Alabama, the Tide punter averaged an outstanding 45.6 yards per boot. As a senior, only five opposing kick returners attempted to gain positive yards. Since the last whistle of the 2017 season, it has been a Sahara Desert of punting. Special teams coach Joe Pannunzio left for the NFL after that season and the now infamous Jeff Banks took over for three seasons. His departure for Texas A&M may have not been such a bad thing, but his replacement Drew Svoboda had a disappointing sole season and was “reassigned” to another role within the program.

The Tide made so many perplexing special team personnel choices (Tyson as a holder, inadequate Burnip over Perine, Martin, and Reichard) and a general lack of development of returners such as Earle and Leary, et al.


Hutzler brings with him a great deal of experience and success. There will be pressure on him to evaluate and succeed in the coming campaign.

  • 2010-11 Florida - 2010 punt average 45.1. UF had one punt return, two kickoff run backs, and one blocked punt returned for scores in both years.
  • 2012-13 New Mexico - Punter was first team All-MWC, returner was MWC Special Teams Player of the Year and a second team All-America honor in 2013.
  • 2014 Florida - Punter named second team All-SEC averaging 44.3; 17th-best unit in the nation.
  • 2015 Boston College - Top 10 nationally in kick return average and BC blocked three punts.
  • 2016-19 South Carolina - Two words: Deebo Samuel. 2016 kickoff return team led the SEC and ranked No. 8 nationally, averaging 25.8 yards per return. Long snapper named fourth team All-American. In 2017, Hutzler was nominated for the Broyles Award, as the nation’s top assistant coach. Punter Joseph Charlton 43.5 yards per punt. 2018 Samuel named first team All-SEC as a return specialist. In 2019, Charlton earned second team All-SEC honors with a punting average of 47.7 ypp. The nation’s No. 10 in net punting (41.96 ypp) and No. 16 in punt return average (13.27 ypr).
  • 2020 Texas - Did not coach ST.
  • 2021 Ole Miss - Second in the SEC in punt returns and third in punt return defense. Averaged 44.4 ypp.


Alabama fields kick in the spring game but they do not actually return them. Even so, it will be interesting to see who is back deep. The Tide has used a variety of players to return kicks over the years. We have seen wide receivers, defensive backs, and running backs all return kickoffs and punts at various times throughout the Saban era.

Some of the possible candidates were mentioned above but others could include Kool-Aid McKinstry, and Jase McClellan. Add speedster Isaiah Bond to that list when he enrolls in the fall.

K - Clearly Reichard will kick the majority kickoffs, field goals and extra points. Martin should get an attempt or two.

P - Burnip will probably be the number one punter on A-Day, but hopefully Martin will get a chance as well.

LS - True sophomore Kneeland Hibbett is the long snapper and should continue that role until he graduates.


How are you feeling about Hutzler?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Very encouraged.
    (79 votes)
  • 30%
    Anyone is better than Svoboda.
    (98 votes)
  • 44%
    I will hold judgment until after the Texas game in the fall.
    (142 votes)
319 votes total Vote Now