EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the ninth installment in a nine-part series looking ahead to the start of Alabama football fall practice. Today we look at the Crimson Tide special teams:
With the NCAA rule allowing a 10th assistant coach for on-field duties now in effect, Alabama has a full-time coach devoted to special teams duties. Jeff Banks, who coached special teams at Texas A&M from 2013-17, will take over the role for Alabama this season.
Andy Pappanastos, who made 17 of 25 field goal attempts last season, has graduated, and there was tight competition for the placekicking position in the spring. Joseph Bulovas, a redshirt freshman, had a solid spring and made five of his seven attempts in the A-Day Game, including a 49-yarder that would have been the team’s longest of the year in 2017. That makes Bulovas the clear front-runner. He will have added competition in August when Austin Jones, a graduate transfer from Temple University, arrives on campus. Jones made 50 of 67 career kicks for the Owls, although he missed part of 2017 with a knee injury.
There will be a tall order for the next punter as he seeks to replace one of Alabama’s all-time standouts, J.K. Scott. Skyler DeLong is the only scholarship punter and must be considered the front-runner, although nothing seemed decisively settled coming out of A-Day.
Thomas Fletcher, last year’s snapper, and Scott Meyer are competing for the job on punts and kicks this year. Scott was the holder in 2017 but quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa are both possibilities for that role. Bulovas is the initial name under consideration to replace Scott on kickoffs.
Alabama’s return game slipped somewhat last year, with the Crimson Tide scoring no touchdowns on either kickoff or punt returns. There is returning experience with leading punt returner Trevon Diggs and top kickoff returner Henry Ruggs III both coming back. UA could use several players in the role, as it did last season. Other candidates with experience in the role are Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs and Xavian Marks. Freshman Jalyn Waddle could also get a look in the return role.
Special teams have accounted for some of the biggest plays in the Saban Era, both positively and negatively. Field goal consistency is probably the area that concerns Alabama fans most but Bulovas and Jones appear promising in that area. The return game was also less productive in 2017 but there are several prospects in both kick and punt returns. The main question mark will be replacing the multi-talented Scott.