Alabama punter Skyler DeLong's solid A-Day did not go unnoticed
In the midst of his on-field coaching duties during A-Day, Nick Saban took a moment to point out a player who has seemingly gone unnoticed this spring. Talking to ESPN’s Laura Rutledge in the middle of the scrimmage, the head coach looked to the sky, his eyes following a booming punt from sophomore Skyler DeLong which traveled 54 yards to the opposing 13-yard line.
“See, nobody wants to talk about the punter,” Saban chirped. “But that guy was a freshman last year, alright, and he was very, very nervous. And he’s gotten a lot better."
While the roughly 60,000 fans inside Bryant-Denny Stadium burst into applause following freshman kicker Will Reichard’s 43-yard field goal in the first quarter, none of DeLong’s four punts drew much of a reaction. Instead, the former three-star recruit quietly averaged 47.5 yards per attempt, sailing two of his punts 50 or more yards while twice pinning his opponents inside the 20.
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DeLong is fine with the silent treatment. After all, it beats the moans and groans that accompanied many of his punts during his tumultuous freshman year. Coming to Alabama as the No. 2 punter in the nation according to ChrisSailerKicking.com, DeLong failed to live up to the hype, averaging just 34.44 yards on 16 punts. After seven frustrating games, he was eventually replaced by walk-on Mike Bernier who severed as the Crimson Tide’s punter for the rest of the season.
Alabama’s struggles at kicker generated the majority of the attention last season as the Crimson Tide missed a shocking nine extra point attempts. However, the punting situation was arguably worse. Alabama ranked No. 128 out of 130 Division I teams as DeLong and Bernier combined to average just 35.76 yards on 42 punts.
Following his demotion, many wrote off DeLong’s future at Alabama. Reichard, who came to Tuscaloosa as one of the most celebrated kicking prospects in years, also punted in high school and was heralded as a potential do-it-all man for the Crimson Tide. However, when both players shared punting duties over the weekend, it was DeLong who demonstrated the slightly more powerful leg.
“People should believe in development,” Saban said. “Everybody wants an immediate outcome instead of focusing on what you need to do to get an outcome.”
Last season, Saban chalked up much of DeLong’s struggles to lack of confidence. The head coach stated that the young punter was “a lot better in practice” and vowed to provide the support and development needed to have success on the big stage.
Six months later, that patience seems to be paying off.
“He’s got more confidence,” Saban said. “We work with him. We work on his drop, his speed in getting rid of the ball more quickly. So now he’s just become a little more consistent. So, hopefully, we can carry that into the season.”
Despite DeLong’s solid A-Day performance, Alabama’s punting competition will likely linger on into the fall. It’s worth noting that Reichard attempted a team-high six punts over the weekend, averaging a respectable 42.2 yards per attempt with a long of 47 yards. Bernier is also still on the roster but has submitted his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal.
In order to regain his starting position, DeLong will need to convince his head coach he can maintain this level of play on a consistent basis. That will likely require a few more big punts in situations with a bit more heightened pressure. Nonetheless, DeLong did his job over the weekend. And even though no one’s talking about it, his efforts didn’t go unnoticed.