Alabama football observations
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Observations as Alabama begins preparations for Texas A&M

There will be football in Tuscaloosa, Ala. this weekend. Following its 38-19 victory at Missouri, No. 2 Alabama returns home to face No. 13 Texas A&M on Saturday. The 2:30 p.m. CT kickoff will break a 315-day hiatus for Crimson Tide fans who will get to cheer on their team inside Bryant-Denny Stadium for the first time in 10 months.

Even at 20 percent capacity, it feels good to be back.

“We're certainly looking forward to the home opener Saturday,” head coach Nick Saban said during his Zoom call with local reporters Monday afternoon. “It will be great to bring football back to Tuscaloosa playing in Bryant-Denny Stadium. So we certainly look forward to that.”

Alabama is currently a 16.5-point favorite over Texas A&M, which downed Vanderbilt 17-12 in Week 1. Here’s what we learned about the Tide on Monday as it begins its preparation for the Aggies.

Saban explains special teams decisions 

Alabama’s three-man punter competition appears to be nearing a conclusion. Last week, freshman walk-on Sam Johnson was the only punter to travel with the team as Saban didn’t want to use up too much of his 70-man travel roster on specialists. While Alabama can dress out all of its players for Saturday’s home opener, the head coach seems intent on sticking with the Birmingham, Ala. native against Texas A&M.

Johnson punted three times against Missouri, averaging 39 yards per attempt while pinning his opposition inside the 20-yard line one time. While those numbers don’t necessarily jump off the stat sheet, the performance was enough to earn the confidence of his head coach.

“We thought Sam did a pretty good job for the first game,” Saban said. “I know he averaged like 38.3 or something like that. But the ball was placed where we needed it to be placed so that we could cover. He got the ball off quickly. So all the sort of things you don’t look at, he did well as a punter. And hopefully, we can get him to just continue to do that and maybe improve a little bit on hitting the ball and getting it down the field a little bit more. But I’d rather have a 38 to 40-yard punt that we can cover than a 50-yard punt that we can’t cover because there’s no hang time and it’s a line drive.”

Johnson is one of three walk-ons competing for the punter role, joining Air Force transfer Charlie Scott and last year’s punter Ty Perine. While Saban said he’s still evaluating the competition at the position, Saturday’s game won’t serve as a tryout for the role.

Johnson wasn’t the only specialist to make his debut over the weekend. Fellow freshman walk-on Chase Allen also made the trip, handling the kickoff duties. The Colleyville, Texas native averaged 60.29 yards on his seven kickoffs while recording three touchbacks.

Will Reichard handled kickoff duties last year, recording touchbacks on 22 of his 29 attempts before suffering a season-ending hip injury during a kickoff. Monday, Saban explained that while the sophomore is back to full health, he’ll be focusing exclusively on field goals and extra points for now.

“As long as we can get the efficiency in the kickoff using the people that we used in the game, we’ll continue to do that,” Saban said. “But we are 100 percent confident that if Will goes into the game he’ll do a great job of kicking off as well.”

Pocket Joker

Former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was known for his expertise in running the RPO, ripping the ball away from backs and whipping it to his receivers with uncanny quickness. Last weekend, Mac Jones showed he excels at a slower pace.

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Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Mac Jones (10) throws a pass for a touchdown against the Missouri Tigers during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Photo | Imagn
Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Mac Jones (10) throws a pass for a touchdown against the Missouri Tigers during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Photo | Imagn