Who will punt for Bama?

Not surprisingly, after Sunday's practice ended several extra players stayed behind, kicking punts back and forth under the watchful eye of Special Teams Coordinator Mark Tommerdahl. <br><br>The possible loss of punter Lane Bearden to a knee injury has presented Alabama with a difficult mid-season challenge.

As Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione pointed out, no one player could expect to step in and replace Bearden.

With all that he did for the team, Lane Bearden will not be easily replaced.

"He is a valuable guy in a lot of respects. I haven't ever had a punter that's been involved in more facets of the game or made more big plays."

In regard to the Tide kicking game, Bearden pretty much does it all. Punter, kickoff man, holder on placekicks, "safety" on both kickoffs and punts, principal "fake man" on both punts and placekicks…

A better question would be "What doesn't Bearden do on special teams?"

"We (might have) lost a really good player the other night," Tommerdahl said sadly. "Look at all that Lane has done for us in many different phases of the kicking game. He gave us a weapon back there. But we'll have to adjust and move on."

Michael Ziifle was trained as Bama's emergency punter.

The question of who might replace Bearden on kickoffs and placekick holds has already been solved. Michael Ziifle did a credible job Saturday kicking off. He needs to work on his height, but the former soccer star showed good leg strength. And senior receiver Sam Collins will handle holding duties.

But when it came to punting the football, Ziifle had been trained for emergency backup duty only. When Bearden was injured on an ill-fated fake punt attempt, one television broadcaster suggested that the Tide would be holding open tryouts for the student body this week.

That's not going to happen. But Tommerdahl admits his job just got a little harder.

"It makes my job interesting," was how he diplomatically put it. "We're going to have to push some of the younger guys. "But that's why they came here--to have a chance to play."

And not surprisingly for a Franchione-coached team, Tommerdahl has got a plan.

"There won't be any open tryouts for the student body," Tommerdahl said. "We know who we want to look at. It's not the situation that we had hoped for, but you've got to be prepared for it."

Beginning with Ziifle, several members of the Tide squad have punting ability.

  • Michael Ziifle (6-0, 236), redshirt sophomore, long field goal kicker, backup kickoff man, emergency punter
  • Kyle Robinson (5-10, 175), junior college transfer, field goal candidate, punted in junior college
  • Jeffrey Aul (6-2, 200), true freshman, placekicker and punter in high school
  • Brian Bostick (5-11, 215), redshirt sophomore, short field goal kicker, has punted in practice
  • Josh Woodard (6-1, 170), true freshman, placekicker and punter in high school
  • Will Fountain (6-2, 190), junior, H-back and emergency punter
  • Jeremy Schatz (5-9, 155), redshirt freshman, punted last spring

As Tommerdahl pointed out, it's not just a matter of finding a youngster with a good leg. Catching the snap and getting the punt off in the face of a fearsomely fast rush is not for the faint of heart. "The one thing that all these guys have got to adjust to now is the speed," Tommerdahl said. "They're not used to catching the ball and getting it gone as fast as they need to at any college level."

Tommerdahl has the difficult task of finding a replacement, if Bearden cannot return.

Tommerdahl will spend the next several days giving everyone a look, but that number will be reduced quickly. "We've got a bunch of candidates," he acknowledged, "but we'll narrow it down. We want to get two or three guys, and that would include Ziifle."

Because the mechanics for punting and placekicking are so different, it's extremely difficult to do both well on a consistent basis. But Ziifle has been trained as the emergency punter. Tommerdahl explained, "The one thing that Mike does is that he can catch it and get the (ball off) quickly. We saw that the other night. He came in and did a really good job on kickoffs. He can be our long field goal guy, or kickoff guy and maybe the emergency punter."

It's not uncommon in high school for good kickers to punt as well as handle placekicking duties. Daleville's Jeffrey Aul did precisely that, but he's chosen to focus on punting on the college level. "Jeffrey Aul is one we're looking at," Tommerdahl said. "Jeff has got a really good leg."

A transfer from Ranger Community College, junior Kyle Robinson is probably the other main candidate. "Kyle is a guy that has got some college kicking experience," Tommerdahl said. "He punted some his freshman year in junior college."

Like Aul, Decatur's Josh Woodard did double duty in high school. On the prep level he was credited with both a 55-yard field goal and a 75-yard punt. "Josh did punt in high school," Tommerdahl revealed, "but he wants to concentrate on his placekicking right now. We'll look at him (at punter), but he'd be a down-the-line guy."

Kyle Robinson was principally a placekicker, but he has college punting experience.

Redshirt freshman Jeremy Schatz participated in spring drills and punted in the 2002 A-Day scrimmage. But a stress fracture has sidelined him this fall. Schatz is conditioning with the "weight room" walk-ons and has not yet been cleared by the medical staff to participate in football practice.

And Tommerdahl pointed out that there are other emergency options available on the squad as well. "Will Fountain has been a backup punter for us, but he would have to improve quite a bit."

No one will be overlooked, but at this point Aul, Robinson and Ziifle are the frontrunners. Tommerdahl explained, "Jeffrey and Kyle--they'll all have to try and beat out Ziifle. Just because Michael has done it (in games). But Michael's only focus on punting to this point was to be an emergency guy--to do what he did Saturday. We asked him to just get the ball off.

"If Michael wins the job, he'll need to focus on a larger punting role, which he frankly has not done till now."

As Tommerdahl pointed out, his job over the next several days will definitely be "interesting." But it's a challenge he's taking in stride. "We would like to think that we have enough athletes already on the team.

"But stay tuned."

BamaMag Top Stories