Three players work regularly at returning punts in practice: Brandon Brooks, Triandos Luke and Shaud Williams. Based on talent alone, Brooks might have a slight edge. But Special Teams Coordinator Dave Ungerer said yesterday that probably won't be the case during games.
"It's probably going to be between Luke and Williams for the most part, depending on who's fresher," Ungerer said. "We feel good about both those guys. It's just a matter of who's fresher in that part of the game."
Ideally the Tide coaches would prefer not to use front-line starters like Luke and Williams in the punt return role. But when it comes to fielding punts, ball security ranks ahead of all other considerations. Catch the ball first and foremost. Then--and only then--worry about getting up field.
On kickoff returns, Luke and redshirt freshman Ramzee Robinson should handle the job.
Speaking of Brooks
Every year fans wonder which player is the fastest on the squad. In a way it's a trick question, because the answer often depends on which distance you're talking about. For example, this season true freshmen Tyrone Prothro or Scoop McDowell might be the fastest over 100 yards, but the diminutive Brooks probably still holds the edge for shorter distances.
One day during the summer after conditioning drills were finished, Brooks, Ray Hudson, Roberto McBride and a few other players decided to race at 40 yards. Hudson has been timed at 4.41 over that distance by Tide coaches, but Brooks' 4.35 is better. On that summer day Brooks won by five yards, calling back over his shoulder to his trailing teammates "That's ‘3-5,' baby!"
True freshmen return men?
Both Prothro and Matt Caddell were beyond excellent as return men in high school, yet after getting a quick look early in fall camp neither of the men are currently practicing in the role for the Tide. But that does not mean they won't be there in the future.
Head Coach Mike Shula explained to reporters a few weeks ago that he would not be averse to spending a true freshman's redshirt year as a return specialist, but only if the player in question was clearly superior to veteran contenders for the job. He went on to add that all other things being equal, NFL coaches would never ask a rookie to return punts in his first pro game.
With Bama's superior depth at wideout this year, the two true freshmen will both probably redshirt. But fans should expect both Prothro and Caddell to be used in the return game next year.
Special teams specialists?
According to Ungerer, senior Gabe Giardina will be used as a holder on placekicks. Giardina was a surprise member of the 105-roster, included at the request of Bama's principal placekicking candidates. As a placekicker himself, Giardina would help with travel-roster numbers by functioning as a backup in case of injury.
The coaches won't announce the decision until tomorrow, but Brian Bostick will be the man at placekicker. The players have been saying that for several days now, and Ungerer himself essentially admitted as much yesterday. It's believed that Bostick will now be awarded a scholarship. (However, that has not been confirmed by Shula.)
Redshirt freshman Jeff Aul appears to have the lead kicking off, though Bostick could also be used for the job also.
The battle at punter is not as clear, but no one questions that Bo Freelend has the strongest leg. However, Jeremy Schatz has been very consistent, making Ungerer's decision difficult.
Freelend's size (he's 6-4, 257, while Schatz is only 5-7, 151) could give him an edge. As Tide fans came to appreciate the past few seasons with Lane Bearden, a punter must function as safety man on punt returns. And a punter capable of holding his own tackling can be invaluable to his team.
Jersey number clues
Speaking of Freelend, at Sunday's practice his jersey number had been changed to No. 24. Previously Freelend wore No. 13, which of course also belongs to backup quarterback Spencer Pennington. So long as the players aren't on the field at the same time, more than one player can wear the same jersey number. But most coaches prefer to keep everyone different--especially if the two players are both likely to see game action.
True freshman cornerback D.J. Chambers, who was assigned No. 24 during fall camp, is expected to redshirt this season.