In Round One between the Super Punter and the Super Returner in 2018, the punter — Texas A&M’s Braden Mann — came out ahead.
Jaylen Waddle would like to change that this season.
Mann, last year’s Ray Guy Award winner, averaged an amazing 60.8 yards per kick (304 yards in just five attempts) in last season’s Alabama win. Waddle had return opportunities on only two of those, averaging a decent 12.5 yards per return. On Saturday, Waddle is hoping for a bigger bang at Kyle Field — if that’s what it takes to get into the end zone.
“There’s gonna be opportunity, but it’s what I make of it,” Waddle said at Alabama’s Monday media session. “I mean, if the opportunity comes, you just got to make a play.”
“Every time he touches the ball I hold my breath because he’s just an explosive receiver, explosive punt returner,” wide receiver Jerry Jeudy said. “So no matter what, he’s going to make plays, find a way to make plays because that’s the kind of player he is.”
That opportunity hasn’t come for Waddle in the receiving department, either, as he has posted 12 receptions for 197 yards but, as yet, no touchdowns. Waddle says, however, there is also no frustration.
“No sir,” he said. “It’s just how the offense flows and how the offense goes.
“It’s been great, honestly. I love to watch (the other receivers including Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III) because I see how hard they work. I love to watch them go out and play to the best of their ability.”
Still, a breakout game in his home state of Texas would be just the opportunity Waddle is looking for.
“It’s gonna be pretty cool, I think,” said Waddle, a Houston native. “I’m know a lot of people in the crowd, a lot of family, and on the other team, that makes it a little fun.”
Alabama head coach Nick Saban also has no impatience with Waddle’s quiet start.
“I certainly think that Jaylen has a lot of ability, (and) we want him to be a very positive contributor,” Saban said Monday. “We want him to play with great consistency in performance. We are going to continue to work with him so that maybe he can do that a little better. But we have a lot of confidence in him in a lot of ways to do a lot of good things for us.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225