Friday, August 23, 2013

The Alabama Analysis: Special teams dependability

With the departure of kicker Jeremy Shelley and long snapper Carson Tinker, the Alabama special teams unit will undergo a minor makeover this season.

Prominent players

H – AJ McCarron
K - Cade Foster
LS - Cole Mazza
P - Cody Mandell

Emerging talent

K - Adam Griffith

Potential kick/punt returners

CB - Cyrus Jones
RB - Dee Hart
WR - Chris Black
WR - Amari Cooper
WR - Christion Jones
WR - DeAndrew White

In regards to Cole Mazza, Alabama’s newest long snapper is the first such player during Nick Saban’s tenure to receive a scholarship directly out of high school. Players in the past who held the position were walk-ons who could potentially earn a scholarship at a later date. Carson Tinker was/is a prime example of such evolution.

While AJ McCarron will return for his final season as the holder, the battle for the starting job at placekicker could literally change with the tide, no pun intended.

Senior Cade Foster, who has had a rather shaky kicking career at 'Bama, will most likely get the starting nod. However, with consistency being the only proof of production, his longevity as the starter will literally depend on his make/miss ratio. In the kicking world, only a few misses can be the difference between being the starter and being the spoof.
When it comes to Foster’s competition, redshirt freshman Adam Griffith will finally get the opportunity to prove his merit in live game action. As noted above, Foster will likely be the “opening day” starter, but Griffith could easily force his way into the starting role, or at least prompt Nick Saban to use a platoon system. In prior seasons, Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley shared the kicking duties, and the assignments were typically based on the distance of each field goal attempt. The same operation could be implemented with Foster and Griffith in 2013.

As for the punting game, Cody Mandell is the man…and he’s the only man. 2013 will mark Mandell’s fourth year as the starter, and barring injury, this position is not up for grabs.

In respect to the return game, expect a motley crew. While Dee Hart, Christion Jones, and Cyrus Jones appear to be the most probable candidates, the unit always has a chance to be shuffled simply based on in-game production. If “player A” were to have various issues in regards to catching the ball and/or fielding/returning treacherous punts or kickoffs, a change would certainly be made.
Many times in college football, the special teams unit as a whole is essentially invisible until a costly mistake is made. Lack of fundamentals within the group always has the potential to change the complexion of a game.

Speaking in general terms, as well as for Alabama, not every kickoff or punt has to be returned for a touchdown, and not every 50-yard field goal has to split the posts. Take care of the basics and “routine” plays, and let the offense/defense take care of the rest.

Don’t be a hero...just be dependable.

Unit rating: 8/10

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