Special teams status report

Personnel-wise, Alabama has reason to be confident about its offensive and defensive units. But frankly the Tide has been sub-par in the kicking game the past few years, meaning Special Teams Coordinator Dave Ungerer has had his work cut out for him during fall camp.

Normally he would only bring in two punters and two placekickers for fall camp, but this year Ungerer doubled that number. "I was glad we brought in that many kickers," he said. "We had a lot of good competition, so I've been happy with that.

"We worked them after practice, before practice, during practice... They've gotten a lot of work in."

Bostick is in the lead for the placekicking job.

Brian Bostick and Kyle Robinson quickly emerged as the leading candidates for placekicker. Both worked in the role last season, and the two were basically neck-and-neck the early part of fall camp. But recently Bostick has edged ahead.

In Tuesday's scrimmage he went 4-of-5, hitting a long field goal of 47 yards. "Bostick had another really good day," Ungerer said. "We're happy with his consistency. I keep using that word a lot, but that's what we're looking for in our kicking specialists."

With Bostick, fans shouldn't expect many 60-yard attempts, but Ungerer believes he's good for up to 50 yards or so. "Brian has a big enough leg. He had a 47-yarder (yesterday). He's fine in that department. Hopefully we won't have to kick too many field goals from that distance, but he's got a strong enough leg to get done what we need."

Fans of course love the idea of a half-field-length kick to win the game, but more importantly Ungerer is looking for consistency up close. He explained, "More than a strong leg, we've got to be consistent from 35 yards in. We've got to be able to count on that guy. Each time we get into that close area, we've got to be sure we can come away with 3s."

Who will hold on placekicks is still not certain. Placekicker Gabe Giardina was brought to fall camp for his holding ability as much as anything else. Reserve quarterbacks Spencer Pennington and Brandon Avalos have both worked in the role. Of course right now Pennington is nursing a hairline fracture in his right thumb.

Schatz may be small, but he hits the ball well.

Jeff Aul has the lead for the kickoff job. Bostick has also worked in that role, along with true freshman Jamie Christensen. Aul is also a punter, but for now he's concentrating on kicking off.

Three punters kicked in Tuesday's scrimmage: Bo Freeland, Jeremy Schatz and Patrick Eades. "We tried to focus on Bo and Jeremy today, to narrow the competition at punter down a bit," Ungerer said. "We wanted to give them both long looks."

Freeland kicked three times for 36, 40 and 37 yards. Schatz had two attempts of 43 and 36 yards. Eades punted once for 47 yards.

"(Bo and Jeremy) both had their bright spots and not-so-bright spots," Ungerer said. "They've been kind of following the same scenario all fall camp. One guys does well and the other one not-so good. Then the other one does real well. Consistency is not there yet."

At 6-4, 257 pounds, Freeland looks more like a lineman than a punter. Ungerer commented, "Bo's got a big leg. We've just got to get it big all the time. One punt is 50, then the next one is 35. We've got to get him consistent. Hit them all in the mid-40s, and we'll be happy."

Deep snapper Nick Ridings is a fifth-year senior.

On the other hand, Schatz (5-7, 151) is one of the smallest athletes on the squad. "Jeremy doesn't have as strong a leg (as Freeland), but he's been more consistent," Ungerer said. "They're both working hard. Hopefully we'll come out of it with a solid situation."

Of course fifth-year senior Nick Ridings is as solid as a rock. So long as he stays healthy, the Tide will be very good on deep snaps. Defensive end Jonathan Brunson will back up Ridings.

Last season Shaud Williams returned punts, mainly because of ball security. Ungerer looked at scores of players for the job early on, but has now narrowed his list down to three.

"Triandos Luke is a good one; Brandon Brooks and AC (Antonio Carter) are also very good," Ungerer revealed. "Those three are probably the top three guys right now. With Luke it's consistency. With Brooks you've got great speed and quickness."

Along with Ray Hudson, Luke was the main kickoff return man last season. This year he's ahead again. "I like Luke, and I like Ramzee Robinson," Ungerer said. "Those have been two guys I've really liked in that role. They're doing a good job, also."

Triandos Luke will return kickoffs and possibly punts as well. (Associated Press)

The wild men of special teams, it's the "gunners'" job to fly down the field without regard for their own safety, getting to the return man as quickly as humanly possible to shut down any return before it gets a chance to start.

Ungerer talked about the leading candidates. "Chris James and Robinson have been doing a good job. Anthony Madison is doing well--Thurman Ward, too. We've got a bunch of guys there that we feel pretty good about."

In terms of punt and field goal blocks, Ungerer arrives in Tuscaloosa with a reputation for innovative schemes. But he's had to put that aspect of his job on hold so far. "We haven't gone too crazy with that yet, because of our situation with no spring ball," Ungerer explained. "Instead we've been concentrating on fundamentals and finding our specialists.

"We'll start game-planning for South Florida more next week."

But after three weeks of fall camp, Ungerer does have a good idea which players will make up his various special teams units. "We've pretty much got our personnel identified now," he said. "We're good with that. We want to see how everybody came out of (yesterday's) scrimmage. If we're healthy, then we'll probably stay with the guys that got reps Tuesday."

A key decision the staff must make immediately involves the true freshmen. Certain players--like defensive tackle Dominic Lee and fullback/halfback Tim Castille--are prime candidates to play, because they're needed at their respective positions. Others (like linebacker Terrence Jones) could see action their first year in significant part because of their value to special teams.

Waldrop's special teams prowess could earn playing time this season.

"We're still working through that," Ungerer said. "After we grade the scrimmage film, we'll finalize that. We need to decide which of the younger guys we're going to bring along and put on some special teams."

Are there any true freshmen he's been particularly pleased with so far?

"The two young linebackers I like," Ungerer replied. "Terrence Jones and Demarcus Waldrop both can really run. I like those guys. Eric Gray, the defensive back, I really like him.

"Those are guys that can help on special teams as young players. We'll see how everyone else on the staff feels on that one and go from there."

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