Almost no one remembers the 33-yard field goal Adam Griffith kicked to tie the College Football Playoff national championship game at Alabama 24, Clemson 24. It came with 10:34 remaining in the fourth quarter. After four or five minutes of commercials, but still with 10:34 remaining in the game, Griffith had another kick, one not likely to be forgotten anytime soon by Bama followers.
That was Alabama Coach Nick Saban’s extraordinary call for an onside kick. Griffith executed it to perfection, similar to a faultless little pitch shot in golf. The ball sailed to the right side of the field, outside the Clemson front blockers, and gently into the hands of streaking Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey.
It was Alabama’s ball at midfield, and two plays and 49 seconds later, O.J. Howard was running into the end zone with a pass from Jacob Coker. Bama was up 31-24 en route to the 45-40 victory.
Alabama begins spring practice March 11 (tentative) and we have been looking at the prospects at each position. There are many, many positions on the various special teams – kickoff and kickoff return, punt coverage and punt return, field goal and extra point execution and block, and free kicks. For the most part, those positions in coverage and returns will be decided in fall camp, when Bama has its entire 2016 roster.
However, that does not mean that Alabama won’t have specialists working. That will include men catching punts (because Cyrus Jones, one of the nation’s best, has departed) and kickoffs (Kenyan Drake, whose 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the CFP game was also instrumental in Bama’s title win, also has moved on to an NFL tryout).
Although it shouldn’t prove important in the spring, there is no special teams coordinator listed on Saban’s coaching staff. Bobby Williams, who also coached tight ends, held that position for the past nine years with Saban. Following this season, Williams moved from an on-the-field position to a special assistant to Saban. In the past Saban has said that a number of coaches participate in the various facets of the kicking game.
And as for the actual kickers, it is commonplace for them to have their own private coaches, much like college golfers and tennis players. The rule of thumb for football coaches is to not do too much work with kickers.
That is not to say “no work.” Early last year Tide punter JK Scott had a slow start after a fantastic freshman year in 2014. Bama coaches spotted a small flaw in his technique, corrected it, and Scott went on to finish the year well.
It is Griffith, an upcoming senior, and Scott, a junior, who are the headliners at Alabama and, perhaps, in the Southeastern Conference as the Tide prepares for the 2016 season.
Griffith didn’t have the greatest start to last season, missing his first four field goal attempts. But he finished the season with 23-32 on field goals. He was perfect on his 62 extra point kicks for 131 points, second only to Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry’s 168.
Griffith was 2-2 on his field goal tries of 50 or more yards with a long of 55 against LSU. He had to be particularly pleased to make all five of his field goal attempts at Auburn since the last one he had tried previous to that had been the infamous long try at the end of the 2013 game that resulted in Auburn returning it out of the end zone for a game-winning touchdown.
Quarterback Cooper Bateman has been the holder for Griffith the past two years.
As Bama’s kickoff man, he had 100 attempts and averaged 63.2 yards per kick. He was successful on two of two onside kick tries and had 55 touchbacks with only one kickoff going out of bounds.
Opponents returned only 41 of his kickoffs for an average of only 19 yards per runback.
Scott, too, finished with a fine season. He punted 70 times for a 44.2 average with a long of 59 and 21 over 50 yards. He had only nine touchbacks, while there were 18 fair catches. He put 25 inside the 20.
Opponents returned only 10 of those punts for a total of 10 yards – 77 of those yards on one runback.
While those were fine numbers, he can do better. As a freshman he led the nation with 55 punts for a 48-yard average with a long of 73 and 23 over 50 yards, 31 inside the 20.
The snapper on both punts and placekicks the past two years has been senior Cole Mazza, who has been perfect on all snaps.
NEXT: A guess at a depth chart going into spring practice.