Most Specialists Return For Bama

Alabama begins spring practice today, but spring training isn't like fall camp, and certainly not like game preparation. That's particularly true for members of the special teams.

True, Alabama punters and placekickers and snappers will work on their skills. But because many of the men who will make up the protection and coverage and return teams will come from the incoming signees, those special teams are not assembled until the fall.

After today's practice, Alabama football players will leave for The University's spring break. The second practice will be the day after spring break, Monday, March 19. Alabama will have 15 days of practice, including three scrimmage days, in March and April. The third and final scrimmage will be the public A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The A-Day Game will begin at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday, April 14, and will be televised by CSS.

For the most part, Alabama has the actual specialists – the kickers -- back on special teams this spring. An exception is back-up punter Jay Williams. Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban announced earlier this week that Williams was giving up football and would try out for the Bama baseball team.

Cody Mandell, a junior walk-on from Lafayette, Louisiana, has improved his game each year. He earned the starting job as punter as a true freshman in 2010 and averaged 39.2 yards per punt and net yardage of 37.1. As a sophomore last year he averaged 39.3 yards per punt (39 punts for 1,534 yards with only three touchbacks while there were 17 fair catches and 11 punts intise the opponent 20) and 37.4 net punting as opponents were able to return only 11 punts for a total of only 51 yards.

Placekickers have two jobs. Kicking for points and kicking off. Jeremy Shelley was the main point kicker last year as he was Bama's short field goal kicker and extra point man. He was good on 21-17 field goals with a long of 44 and made 52-54 extra point kicks. for a total of 115 points.

Shelley was good on 5-7 field goals against LSU in the BCS National Championship Game, but missed the extra point after the Tide's touchdown.

Cade Foster was the Tide's kickoff man and long field goal kicker. He was good on 2-9 field goal tries, 2-5 between 40 and 50 yards and 0-4 on those over 50. He also averaged 63.3 yards per kickoff with five touchbacks and only one out of bounds. Shelley also had a few kickoffs that made the Tide average 62.5 yards, With kickoffs from the 30 last year, that meant that opponents were averaging catching the kickoffs at about the seven-yard line. Opponents returned 84 of those for an average of 21.7 yards.

Next season the kickoffs will be from the 35, meaning Foster would have to improve just a few yards to have a lot more touchbacks. The tradeoff for the new kickoff line (which is in the interest of safety to encourage touchbacks) is that the receiving team will start on its 25 instead of 20.

Also back for his final season is senior Carson Tinker, who has been Bama's deep snapper the past two years. Last year the Tide holder was quarterback A.J. McCarron and he could have that duty again this year or it could fall to another, perhaps a back-up quarterback.

Although the punt and kickoff return men will not be designated until the fall, previous events provide hints. In the BCS National Championship Game, Marquis Maze suffered a hamstring pull while making a 49-yard punt return against LSU. Before that game, LSU had given up a grand total of six yards in punt returns for the year. Maze was replaced by Christion Jones (5-11, 175), a true freshman at the time, who flawlessly handled several pressure punt catches deep in Tide territory and also had a 15-yard punt return. Jones should be the clear leader for punt return man in 2012.

Jones also had a 32-yard kickoff return on LSU's only kickoff in the 21-0 Tide victory. Maze and Trent Richardson were Bama's primary deep men on kickoffs last year. Look for Jones, redshirt freshman tailback Dee Hart (5-9, 189), and sophomore DeAndrew White (6-0, 181) to be among those considered for kickoff return duty.

This is the last in a series looking as Alabama football positions prior to the start of spring football practice.

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