Football Fight: Punter

It's a measure of a slow news day when the top story in the newspaper is that a college punter will leave one team to walk on with another, and won't be eligible until after sitting out a season. That's not to take away from sportswriter Tommy Deas of the Tuscaloosa News breaking the story or from the ability of Sean Reck.

Late this summer, Deas reported that Reck, a junior from Prattville, would leave Stillman College in Tuscaloosa and walk on at Alabama. Reck was the 20th-ranked punter in Division II last year, averaging 39.4 yards per punt. He will redshirt this year, then have two years of eligibility beginning in 2007.

But Bama can't wait a year to have a competent punter. A good punter can make a huge difference in field position, and field position can play a significant part in the outcome of a football game. For instance, last year the Crimson Tide punted 67 times and netted 34.1 yards per punt. Alabama opponents punted 79 times and netted 40 yards per punt. The difference? Bama opponents gained 73 yards per game in field position from the punting game.

Net punting yardage is not all about the punter. Coverage when punting and returning when receiving punts figure in to the math.

But it starts with a punt. Coach Dave Ungerer, who is Alabama's special teams coordinator and who works directly with punters, will have to find a successor to Jeremy Schatz this fall. The task is made a bit more difficult in that the Tide will also have a new deep snapper this year.

Ungerer is looking for a number of traits in a punter. Obvious is kicking ability. But the punter must also have good athletic ability to handle the snap (good or bad) and to avoid a horrible play. He must have good time in getting the punt away, then good hang time as well as distance on the punt so that the coverage team can force a fair catch or make a quick tackle.

Following spring practice the leader was P.J. Fitzgerald, a 6-0, 196-pound freshman who was redshirted last fall. As a high school senior in Coral Springs, Florida, in 2004 he averaged 40 yards per punt and was third team all-state.

Alabama's official pre-season depth chart didn't even list a second team punter, but history has it that punter is a position where there can be new faces every spring and every fall.

One of the new faces from last spring is another redshirt freshman, Justin Martin, 5-10, 205. He was number two punter through most of the spring, but had a difficult time with consistency.

One player who might make a comeback this fall is Patrick Eades, a 6-2, 185-pound junior. Eades suffered a very bad hip injury in an automobile accident a couple of years ago and missed all of 2005 spring and last season, but is tentatively scheduled to be on the field this fall.

There has been word of one newcomer in 2006. Adam Hall, 6-1, 200, was an outstanding prep kicker in Georgia and is scheduled to walk on with the Tide this August.

Editor's Note: This is one in our summer series of looking at Alabama's football depth chart position-by-position.

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