As Alabama continues spring practice, leading up to the A-Day game, concerns have come up. Sure there are going to be concerns every year for every team in the NCAA, but these concerns are a little bit worse than ever before.
There are concerns on defense with the replacements of both defensive backs, middle linebacker, and force in the middle. Those are all concerns Nick Saban can handle, because he is a defensive genius. On offense, we have concerns for replacing valuable offensive linemen and tight ends, which are also no big deal because of the knowledge Saban has.
There is one more concern that neither Saban nor any other college coach has any control over. That concern is special teams. When I say no control over, I mean you can work and work on a defensive back, and he will eventually play well. But, being a kicker is strictly a mind game.
Kickers and punters can play well, but with one mistake, concentration goes out of control. For example, Leigh Tiffin got the job done for Alabama during his career. Even though he booted some 50+ yard field goals in his time, it was different in the 2006 Arkansas game.
So Alabama has lost their best kick returner, punt returner, punter, and kicker. Pressure comes with these positions. The only thing Saban can do is find the best kicker or punter with the best mental concept of the position. So who are the candidates for these jobs and who will get them? Everyone can find out on April 18th but here is a pretty good preview.
Alabama lost their three main special teams player—Leigh Tiffin at kicker, PJ Fitzgerald at punter, and Javier Arenas at returner.
Our first priority is kicker. Tiffin will be in the hearts of Alabama fans forever—in a positive or negative way, depending on what kind of fan you are. Now, the candidates for the new kicker position get kind of confusing.
Corey Smith was recruited last year as a kicker and was said, by many, to be the replacement for Tiffin. Whispers of Smith quickly stopped when his name was not listed on the official roster for the 2009 season. The kickers listed were Jeremy Shelley and Colin Gallagher. Naturally, you may think, well, who the heck are these guys? Well they're basically just walk-ons who would have gone in the game if Tiffin was injured.
These walk-ons will not be the new kickers for the Crimson Tide. The new kicker should be new recruit Cade Foster. Foster, I believe, is just what the Tide needs. Not only did he play kicker, he also played middle linebacker. So, as you can imagine, he is a pretty stocky guy. He also enrolled early. So, if he does play, you will see him on the field at A-Day.
Now, even though it is quite obvious that Foster will be the next kicker, who becomes the next punter is kind of complicated. According to Rivals.com, Jay Williams is a kicker. According to Scout.com, Jay Williams is a punter. Williams obviously played both positions. As of right now, he is our only option for a punter, unless he is really good and beats out Foster for the job at kicker.
He, unlike Foster, did not enroll early. So, we will just have to wait and see. I am interested to see who will play punter in the A-Day game. Whoever does play will also be a candidate, but I feel like Saban is looking for something fresh on special teams. That's why I believe the kicker will be Foster, and Williams will be the punter. Both are upcoming true freshmen.
Now the kick returner/punt returner position won't be so fresh. On the recruiting trail, I honestly thought that Keenan Allen would fight for a starting position to replace Arenas at defensive back and punt returner. Unfortunately, due to family connections, Allen made a last minute dash to California.
So who will be the new returner for the Crimson Tide?
Well, as much as I hate to say it, Julio Jones is the No. 1 candidate. Wait a second? I hated to say Julio Jones? Yes, you read right. Jones is good punt returner who will get the job done. Believe it or not though, Jones will not be able to fill the shoes that Arenas left, and frankly, I don't believe anyone can—well at least not next year. So, I guess the winner is Jones.
So the complete reconstruction of the special teams this season is quite unique. No, this is not the first time a team has had to replace a kicker, punter, and punt returner. What's so unique about this situation one may ask? It's unique because unlike those other teams, Alabama basically has no known backups. So, it looks like fresh meat will be on the field this year.