Alabama Crimson Tide football spring positional previews: Specialists
Alabama won't be able to begin its spring football practice until April 15 at the earliest as the SEC suspended all organized team activities due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. While we wait for the Crimson Tide to hit the practice field, BamaInsider will break down Alabama’s roster, asking the biggest question for each position group while examining where the team stands with new faces and returning players.
Today we continue our series with the specialists.
Projected depth chart
Will Reichard, So
Joseph Bulovas, R-Jr
Ty Perine, So
Skyler DeLong, Jr.
Thomas Fletcher, Sr
Mac Jones, R-Jr
Slade Bolden, R-So/Brian Robinson Jr., Sr
Jaylen Waddle, Jr
This could very well be one of, if not the best, specialists groups Alabama has fielded in the Nick Saban era.
A lot will depend on kicker Will Reichard, but receiver Jaylen Waddle has already proven he’s more than just an offensive superstar. His career average of 19.46 yards gained per punt return has him well ahead of Alabama’s all-time career leader Javier Arenas (14.1 yards).
Waddle, like Arenas, has also proven he can find the end zone on special teams. Waddle took the ball into the end zone three times already on only 42 combined punt and kick return attempts.
However, it’s unclear if Alabama will want to continue using Waddle on special teams now that receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs are off to the NFL. It will be tough for the Crimson Tide to pull him from that phase of the game completely, but his attempts might diminish.
His chances to shine on special teams might shrink even more if opposing teams decide to kick the ball away from him.
Biggest question: Can Alabama’s kickers remain sucessful given a larger workload in 2020?
Punter Ty Perine only kicked it 13 times, but he certainly made the most of his opportunities. He averaged 44.69 yards per punt. To put that in perspective, former Alabama punter JK Scott averaged 42.96 yards per punt in 2017.
Perine proved he has the leg. Now he just needs to prove he can be consistent and keep it up an entire season.
Of course, as always, Alabama’s biggest concern will be the health and development of Reichard. As a freshman, he drilled four of seven field-goal attempts before suffering a hip flexor injury that prevented him from kicking anymore for the rest of the season.
Reichard’s career started with consecutive misses from 48 and 49 yards out against Duke, but he proved he has what it takes when he drilled a kick from each of those distances the very next week.
“He’s a very dynamic player. He’s the type of guy that if he gets the ball in space, he can score a touchdown at almost any moment. I think he’s a young man who works extremely hard, he has a high football IQ, he loves the game of football, he works at it, he wants to be as good as he can be, which are obviously all great qualities to have. He’s definitely a dynamic player who we have to continue to try to find ways to get the ball in his hands.” — Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian on Waddle last season
Bold prediction: Will Reichard makes 85 percent of his kicks.
In the last seven seasons, only one of Alabama’s starting kickers drilled more than 75 percent of their field goal attempts.
The one outlier, Joseph Bulovas in 2018, only attempted four kicks from at least 40 yards away. Most of his work came within 20-29 yards away where he successfully converted seven of eight opportunities.
Reichard has proven he has the leg. Yeah, his start was rough, but maybe it was just that, a rough start.He converted four of his next five attempts. There’s no reason to think he wouldn’t have maintained that pace going forward.
Reichard’s range could be what sets him apart from other previous Alabama kickers. The starting kicker for the Crimson Tide has failed to make more than half of their attempts from 40-plus yards out during four of the last seven seasons. Again, Bulovas is one of them, but he only attempted four such kicks in 2018.
Cade Foster and Adam Griffith converted 5-of-8 and 7-of-9 long-distance kicks in 2013 and 2015, respectively. However, both those guys failed to convert even 72 percent of their total kicks in those years.