Everyone likes the high, long booming punts, but the real number in punting is the net average. A 50-yard punt with a 20-yard return (30 net) obviously is not as effective as a 40-yard punt that results in a fair catch. The flip side, of course, is that a long return negates a long punt.
Our final installment of a series looking at the top players at each position in the nine-year Nick Saban Era at Alabama examines the punters, and also looks at the outstanding Crimson Tide punt return men.
Saban inherited punter P.J. Fitzgerald from Mike Shula and Fitzgerald was Bama’s punter 2007-09. Fitzgerald had a good year before getting to Saban, 57 punts for a 38.2 average and 34.8 net average with 19 inside the 20 with a long of 55 in 2006. In his first year under Saban, Fitzgerald was about the same, 64 punts for a 38.7 average and 33.5 net with 20 inside the 20 and a long of 58. In 2008 he had 59 punts for a 41.1 average and 37.0 net with 15 inside the 20 and a long of 56. In the national championship season, 2009, Fitzgerald had 58 punts for a 41.5 average and 34.7 net with a long of 55.
Cody Mandell handled the punting chores for the next four years. In 2010 he punted 41 times for a 39.2 average and 36.2 net with 13 inside the 20 and a long of 59. In 2011 he had 39 punts for a 39.3 average and 36.5 net with 11 inside the 20 and a long of 52. In his next national championship season, 2012, Mandell had 50 punts for a 44.3 average and 39.5 net with 19 inside the 20 and a long of 61. In his senior season he had 39 punts for a 47.1 average and 42.5 net with 15 inside the 20 and a long of 63.
Upcoming junior J.K. Scott has had the job the past two years. He was an All-America as a freshman in 2014 as he punted 55 times for a 48 yard average and a net of 44.7 yards (opponents returned punts for a total of only 31 yards all season), both Alabama records. He had a long punt of 70 yards, one of 23 punts he had over 50 yards, and put 31 inside the 20. By his own account, he had a slow start in the 2015 national championship season, but he improved as the season progressed and finished with 70 punts for a 44.2 average and 40.2 net with a long of 59 (one of 21 over 50 yards) and 25 inside the 20.
Even though he has two years remaining, one can’t overlook the Alabama record-holder as the best of the Saban Era, and the best of three very good punters.
The list of punt return men includes most of those who were also among the best kickoff returners of the Saban Era, and as is the case with so many positions, there are several excellent candidates.
Javier Arenas had been Shula’s man in 2006 when he had 31 returns for 286 yards, 9.2 per return, with long runback of 86 yards and 2 touchdowns. In his first year under Saban in 2007, Arenas had 21 returns for 323 yards, 15.4 per runback, and 1 touchdown with a long of 69. In 2008, he had 41 returns for 650 yards, 15.9 per return, with a long of 87 and 3 touchdowns. His final season, the 2009 national championship year, he had 32 runbacks for 493 yards, 15.4 per return, 1 TD, and a long of 66. His Alabama records include most punt return yards in a game (153 vs. Tulane in 2008; and he’s also second with 147 vs. Mississippi State that year), in a season (650 in 2008), and in a career (1,752) and his career average of 14.1 yards per return. He had 7 punt returns for TDs.
Marquis Maze was the main punt return man in 2010 and 2011. In his first year on the job he had 21 returns for 267 yards, 12.7 average, with a long of 37. In the 2011 national championship season he ran back 33 for 436 yards, a 13.2 average, with a TD and a long of 83.
Christion Jones did most of the work in 2012 with 21 returns for 213 yards, 10.1 per runback, with a long of 31. He also returned in 2014 with 19 returns for 152 yards, 8.0 average, with a long of 47.
Cyrus Jones was used a bit behind Christion Jones with 8 returns for 61 yards, 7.6 average, lone of 32 in 2012, and in 2014 he had 4 returns for 82 yards, one of hose for 70 yards, and a 20.5 average. In 2013 and in last year’s national championship season he was the primary punt returner. In 2013 he had 23 for 321 yards, a 14.0 average, and 2 TDs. In last year’s national championship season he had 42 runbacks for 530 yards (second in Tide history) for a 12.6 average, a long of 72, and 4 touchdowns.
This nod has to go to Arenas.