Deep snapper must be found

Graduation hits some positions harder than others. For example Alabama loses no less than five athletes from its 2003 receiving corps. But no position has been harder hit than deep snapper on special teams.

Four-year starter Nick Ridings graduates. But his two principal back-ups, Jonathan Brunson and Mitch Grissett, are seniors, too. Which means that Special Teams Coordinator Dave Ungerer suddenly finds his snapping cupboard bare.

"We've been looking hard at that to try and find us some guys to come that can handle long snapping," Ungerer acknowledged.

After being near-perfect for most of his career, Ridings didn't finish with his best season. Sometimes the snap was off. Other times the holder could have done a better job of getting the ball down. And on too many occasions the placekicker simply didn't do a good enough job.

For a walk-on athlete like Matt Collins, the deep-snapping job would represent a welcome chance at playing time.

The bottom line is that Alabama's placekicking efficiency needs to improve. And it starts with finding a new deep snapper.

"That's been a priority of mine for awhile," Ungerer said. "You look on the squad and maybe in recruiting to try and find some guys."

Obviously a good long snapper needs a strong arm. But accuracy and reflexes are every bit as important. And while placekicks don't require much running, punts are another matter entirely. A former linebacker in high school, many times in his Tide career Ridings made the deep snap back to the punter, then ran downfield to tackle the return man.

Defensive tackle Dominic Lee would be one candidate. An excellent all-around athlete, Lee handled the job in high school and obviously has the physical skills to handle the duty.

"We have some guys that have done it in the past that will work on it in the spring," Ungerer said. "There will be some guys on our team that worked it in high school."

Ungerer can't talk about him on the record, but one Tide recruit will definitely be a candidate for the job. A tight end by trade, Trent Davidson (6-5, 242) has also handled long-snapping duties for his team for as long as he can remember.

"That's no problem," Davidson said of deep snapping. "That's one thing I've talked about with the Tide coaches."

Obviously either Lee or Davidson would be excellent choices, but time constraints may point Ungerer in a different direction. Once selected, a deep snapper needs to be able to spend hours working with the holder and kicker, developing the rhythm and chemistry necessary for peak efficiency.

Nick Ridings (#50) handled the job for four years for Alabama.

Not only must the snapper be willing to show up day after day during the summer to work out with the holder and kicker, he must also work with them during regular practice fall two-a-days begin. And time spent off on another field working on placekick timing is time not spent practicing on either offense or defense.

That's why fans will want to keep an eye on some less well-known Tide players. Walk-on athletes like Matt Collins (6-1, 230) or Will Denniston (6-2, 217) would view long-snapping duties as a welcome chance at playing time. Listed at linebacker and tight end respectively, Collins and Denniston basically played all over the field in high school.

"That's a good idea," Collins said recently of the deep snapping job. "I need to talk to Coach Ungerer and work on that the next several months."

After joining the team as a walk-on, Ridings earned a scholarship based on his value as a long snapper.

"With some guys it's a way to get on the field," Ungerer said. "Or maybe with some of our better athletes we'll have to call them into service."


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