There has been a lot of talk about kicking inconsistencies and this year's iteration of the Alabama Crimson Tide. There is agreement across the board that the starters, Adam Griffith at placekicker and J.K. Scott at punter, have more than enough talent to get their respective jobs done.
Things are currently on the upswing, but for some reason, earlier in the season, the Alabama kickers' output was off the mark. Though few agreed, everyone seemed to know why.
"It was special teams coaching."
"He has a hurt back."
"They have mental blocks."
All of that may be true. None of that may be true.
To horribly truncate one of my favorite poems by Robert Graves, "Since none of us knows the why of the weather... Every poor fool is licensed to explain it." That more or less parallels most fans' understanding of this particular aspect of special teams, but that is hardly fair to those involved in the actual process and who takes the brunt of blame.
I do not know the why of the kicking game. How much input do coaches and trainers have? Is there an absolute right way to do things? Does every kicker come at things differently?
RBR asked former Tide punter and fan favorite Lane Bearden to share his insights. While no one is claiming that all coaching staffs and all teams share the same approach, it is extraordinarily interesting to hear from someone who has been in the position our guys are currently in. He does know the why of the kicking game and we are thankful to him for sharing his experience.
There is an assumption among portions of the fan base that place kickers and punters inhabit a world separate from the rest of the team, that their need to develop a very specialized set of skills means that they don't fraternize with the rest of the team. Any truth to that?
There is definitely some truth to that from my experience. It depends on the player I guess because I feel like I was very involved with the rest of the team but some of the other kickers definitely did their own thing on a day to day basis.
How much influence on your kicking motion or mechanics, for lack of a better word, did the coaching staff and trainers have on the final product you displayed on the field? Was it a situation where you arrive on campus already proven (as your MVP in the AL vs. MS All-Star Game in 1997 clearly shows you were) and expected to expand on your way of doing things or were you shown a new or more "technically perfect" kicking motion on day one? Was it some combination of the two?
When I was at Alabama there were no coaches on staff with any history of kicking or punting. They pretty much used the same outdated terms that you will hear your buddy on the golf course tell you after you have shanked a tee shot: "you should have kept your head down" or "you didn't follow through." There were no coaches that specialized in technique or fundamentals, just the obvious after something had gone wrong. The people you could count on were the other kickers and the fact that they filmed everything in practice which allowed me to go back and see what I did incorrectly.
The best coaching that I ever received as far as dealing with people that knew what they were talking about were in the Alabama and Auburn kicking and punting camps during the summer when I was in high school. Most of the coaches were current or former Division 1 kickers and they had all been through the pressure and understood the importance of fundamentals.
I don't remember you having a slump in your time at the Capstone and found that, in checking, raw stats are not very helpful in determining if you where hitting the ball the way you wanted to or not. Did you ever have a rough patch? If so, was the cause mental, physical, or was it something else?
I never had a bad stretch but I definitely had a bad punt every now and then. I'm pretty sure I put one in the stands in Baton Rouge, but I didn't watch it after it hit my foot. I knew it was really bad and my teammates made sure I knew it for the next couple of days. The video we watch is not the television version so I never saw how far out of bounds it went but it definitely was headed that direction.
It's no secret that JK Scott and Adam Griffith have both had some troubles this year. They also both look to be overcoming whatever it was that was hampering them. A portion of our fan base is placing the blame for their slump on coaching. Our readers understand that you are not attending the current squad's practices and that you are not sitting in on the Saban led staff meetings, so we are not asking you to speak for or against whatever attempts the incumbents may be making to help out their kickers. But in your experience, is there anything that a coaching staff can do for a proven kicker who is just not connecting or does the kicker need to work it out himself?
First of all before I criticize anything they are doing, I need to say that JK Scott is probably the best pure punter I have ever seen. He can take a smooth swing through the ball and force a fair catch on a 55 or 60 yard punt which is unheard-of at the college level. He was also an All-, I believe, as a freshman and I think that is part of his problem. He is too good. How do you follow up a season like he had last year, where he pretty much did no wrong? I never accomplished what he did last year in my four years at Alabama but I could only imagine what kind of pressure he has put on himself to be better this year. From an outsider looking in, I would say that he is trying to do more than he needs to and he is starting to figure that out. All he has to do is stay within his natural capabilities and he will continue to get better.
I hate to comment on Adam Griffith but the best answer I can come up with is a confidence problem. Kicking in front of the team in practice is difficult but it's nothing like stepping out in Bryant Denny knowing that you have to make a kick in front of 102,000 people. If a kicker comes out of the gate to start the season with a couple of misses, it's hard to shake it and get the confidence back. The worst thing a kicker can do is lose confidence because then you start to try to push the easy ones through instead of trusting your stuff and kicking every kick the same. In my experience when you see a kicker try to chip the short ones and they are not driving them through, there is a confidence issue. Your coaches and teammates can watch you make every kick in practice and have 100% confidence in you, but if you don't have 100% confidence in yourself, you will think yourself into a miss.
In 2002 you saw five different teammates take a turn at place kicker. In your opinion is it better to bench a player having accuracy issues in favor of a back up or does the benching do more harm to the starter's long term development? On the flip side, if a guy has muffed a number of kicks in a row, do repeated mistakes build on the mind and become a distraction greater than would getting benched?
I honestly did not realize that there were 5 different kickers (and I was the holder.) But to answer the question it depends on the situation and the person. I was a completely different player from when I just did kick-offs as a freshman, to punting, holding, and kicking off as a senior. I was also treated completely differently from year to year because of my confidence level and what was expected of me.
In 2002, there was no defined starter in that position and I do remember there was a battle from week to week on who the starter would be on game day. I would say that because no one stood out from the rest for the entire season that there was no other option for the coaches but to put in the guy that performed the best during that week of practice. There was never one guy that had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in the position and gain confidence. It's very difficult not to make a mistake when you are always looking over your shoulder.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about playing hurt. In 2002 against Arkansas, you tore your ACL on a fake punt. Despite the injury you played out the season. At the time, NY Times writer Mike Wise wrote, "It is either a tale of grand perseverance or gross negligence." [Link here if you haven't read it.] Looking back, was it either? Would you do it again?
Looking back it was not a smart thing to do but there were different things that contributed to the decision. I was a 3 year starter and oddly enough we really didn't have a backup punter at the time. Michael Ziifle came in and punted in the Georgia game the week after I tore my ACL and I don't believe he had even punted for his high school team. The next week was our off week I had already decided to delay he surgery to see if I could punt again and I remember the coaches having everyone punt to see if there was someone that stood out and the two that ended up actually practicing that week were Tyler (Watts) and Brodie (Croyle). I didn't have to finish out the season and no one put pressure on me to do it but in the end how many chances do you get to play for Alabama? It was too late for a medical redshirt by two quarters of football and the doctors told me they thought it would be okay.
Again, our thanks to Lane for his time, and Roll Tide.