Newcomers join the battle at placekicker

Tide fans anxious for news about the Alabama placekicking competition are going to have to be patient. While Head Coach Dennis Franchione is generally pleased with the newcomers that reported Wednesday, don't expect any decisions until next week.

"We'll continue the competition into the middle of next week," Franchione said. "At that time we'll evaluate whether any of the newcomers can be a part of that decision."

The question, of course, is who will replace "Mr. Dependable" Neal Thomas. Tide fans and coaches grew complacent the last two seasons, confident that Thomas would handle the job.

This season Thomas still attends practice, but he carries a clipboard as a student coach. And though sophomore Michael Ziifle was impressive during fall camp, no one has handed him the job yet. "We've still got 10 days," said Special Teams Coordinator Mark Tommerdahl. "I'm not trying to put anyone off, but we told all those guys that they would be a part of the competition. And we want to follow through on that."

Left-footed placekicker Kyle Robinson kicks with Spencer Pennington holding.

Including Ziifle, Mike McLaughlin and Brian Bostick were also included in the 105-man early reporting roster. But Franchione made it clear from the beginning that he would wait until classes began and all the kicking candidates joined practice before any decision would be made. "(The decision) could be as late as 11:15 that Saturday (before kickoff versus MTSU), but I think by next Wednesday we'll know," he said. "That gives them almost a week more. Even at this late date kickers can come in and have a shot."

Two returning players and two newcomers added to the mix make a total of seven placekickers vying for the job. Sophomore Alex Fox and junior Gabe Giardina were on the roster last spring. Junior-college transfer Kyle Robinson from Texas has been on campus all summer, working out voluntarily. And true freshman Josh Woodard of Decatur was generally considered the top prep placekicker in North Alabama last year.

Following their first day of practice, Tommerdahl gave a quick comment. "Kyle, Alex and Gabe all did some good things. Robinson is the junior-college transfer, and he's got a good stroke. Woodard hurt his foot by kicking into the ground. That's common for high school kids, adjusting to kicking without a tee. But he's got a strong leg."

"It's too early to say much about any particular one of the new placekickers," Franchione explained. "Kyle Robinson, Gabe Giardina and Alex Fox are all veteran guys that have some experience behind them."

There is some talent among the additional kickers, but whether they're good enough to earn an on-the-field role remains to be seen. "Kyle Robinson made a good first impression," Franchione said. "He got the ball up well. Josh Woodard has got a good leg. Those guys came in and all made good first impressions. We'll test them after practice every day to see if they're a viable option here."

Sophomore Michael Ziifle (#35) is the leader coming out of two-a-days.

Another in-state walk-on, Jeffrey Aul, handled both placekicking and punting duties in high school. But in college Aul wants to focus exclusively on punting. "We're trying to develop another punter," Franchione said, "not for this year, because we've got Lane Bearden, but for the future. Aul has got a good leg to punt the ball, but he needs a lot of technique work. He actually holds the ball with one hand when he punts right now."

With kickoff versus Middle Tennessee barely more than a week away, there's precious little time left to impress the coaches. But Franchione will wait. "It's too early to say whether (the new kickers) will make an impact on the depth chart," he said. "We've got to see if they can survive the test of time and consistency. Not be a flash in the pan for a day or two.

"A lot of them haven't kicked much with a rush. We'd like to see that. They've got to get used to their holder and snapper, and that takes some time, too. So it wouldn't be fair for me to make a judgement right now.

"The big thing was that they hit the ball, they got it up. They've obviously worked this summer. They made us think we can take a good look at them."

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