State of Play
Last year, despite Alabama’s pitiful kick return game, the Crimson Tide had some of the most effective, lethal special teams in the country.
- Alabama finished 4th in the nation in special teams efficiency
- Alabama was “just” 4th in the SEC in YPR allowed, but it shaved off almost 2 full yards from its returns, and opponents began play inside the 25 on 64% of their possessions, with average possession beginning at the 24.78 yard line, down from the 26.17 yard line in 2021. Simply an outstanding job here. Alabama was T-1st in the country in long returns allowed as well: no kicks over 30 yards, and no returns for a score. Even Will Richard chipped in on the field position war and raised his percentage of forced touchbacks all the way to 47.47%.
- The Tide put more pressure on kickers, as the Tide went from 43rd in the country in PAT conversions allowed to 8th.
- Will Reichard was first in the nation in PATs (perfect 100%), fifth in converted PATs, led Alabama in scoring once again, and he jumped to Top Third nationally in percentage — 84.6%.
- In punt coverage, the Tide allowed 5.9 YPA. In ten games, they allowed 10 or fewer yards. And the longest PR allowed was 13 yards.
- Even punting improved! Sure, Alabama was just 73rd nationally. But recall: this was a team that was dead last in the SEC in punting, and 124th in the country. Punting improved from 38.33 YPK to 41.36 — almost a 10% increase, and nearing the national median of 41.74. In fact, I’m going to give them those extra nine inches (TWHS) and proclaim that 41.74 vs. 41.96 yards is practically meaningless. Alabama finished fifth in the SEC in punting. The first top-half finish since JK Scott hung ‘em up 8 years ago.
- Kool-Aid was among the nation’s very best punt returners. The Tide were the best in nationally in long punt return plays, doubling last season’s output and averaging almost one per game. They were 3rd in the nation in PR average, and ‘Bama led the country in punt return yards per game. That wasn’t illusory either or being rang up against soup cans, as we saw in 2021: Against ranked opponents, Alabama was 15th in YPA.
- And, well...kick returns sucked. Among the worst in the country. We have to find something for that. But hey, can’t win ‘em all.
So, what is Alabama returning for 2023? Let’s take a look
No, seriously. Every positive contributor of last year’s group returns in 2023.
- Super Senior Lou Groza-nominee Placekicker Will Reichard?
- Junior Aussie Punter James Burnip?
- Mannelly-nominee Long-Snapper, Kneeland Hibbett?
- Thorpe-nominee, and the nation’s best corner and punt returner?
Kool-Aid is back too, baby!
The Tide do lose Jahmyr Gibbs from kick return coverage. But, since the Tide were dead-last in the SEC and 101st in the nation in that respect, that’s not really a loss.
About the only one of note is at kick returner. Ja’Corey Brooks will probably get the job by default. But I’m not sure that anyone is really comfortable with WR1 also being ‘Bama’s sole KR option. That said, he is literally the only other player with meaningful kick return experience — and even then, he fielded just seven all year.
Spitballing, Nick Saban has traditionally paired a wide receiver or DB with a running back. I would not at all be surprised to see someone like Jamarion Miller as KR2 back there. He’s stout, but also has incredible acceleration; that first step and playing quick is often better than straight-line 40 speed. Don’t be too stunned to see Richard Young or Justice Haynes get a few looks in Fall camp either. They are simply too good to not find some snaps on the field.
But, for my money Brooks and Miller make the most sense.
Wrapping It Up (TWSS)
Breathe easy, folks.
Whether the Tide is punting, covering, kicking, or reeling in punts, ‘Bama is in great hands. Perhaps the best we’ve ever seen under Nick Saban. Sure, a kick returner emerge would be great to see. Special teams represent instant field position and momentum-devouring cheap scores that can win you a game...or cost you a game
. Looking at you Tennessee, Texas A&M.
But given the rest of ‘Bama’s strengths, I think we can live with merely average here.
Special teams that truly are special. What a breath of fresh air.