Fitzgerald Still Learning To Punt
"Neither Leigh nor I is much for rides in amusement parks," said Fitzgerald. "We walked around the park for a little while, then went back to the hotel and played X-Box."
P.J. Fitzgerald and Leigh Tiffin are critical senior specialists for the Alabama football team that will play Texas for the national championship at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena Thursday. Both the Crimson Tide, which is ranked number one, and the Longhorns, ranked second, are 13-0. ABC will televise the game, which kicks off at 5 p.m. PST (7 p.m. central time).
Fitzgerald is Bama's punter and also the holder on field goals and extra points. Tiffin is the kickoff man and kicks field goals and extra points.
Fitzgerald said, "When our offense is on the field, Leigh and I are both watching carefully and thinking about field position. We have to be prepared for whatever we're going to do.
"When we're on the minus side of the field (between the goalline and the 50), I'm possibly going to have to punt with the goal of changing field position.
"When we get across the 50, Leigh starts thinking about a field goal and I'm thinking maybe field goal and maybe pooch punt."
Alabama Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain said, "We reserve the right to punt. We want every possession to end with a kick, either a punt, a field goal, or an extra point."
"Extra point is best," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said he is aware of Jordan Shipley's punt return ability for the Longhorns. Shipley is a fine wide receiver who also has the potential for a big kick return.
""I'll try to not give him an opportunity," said Fitzgerald. "That means good hang time and an angled punt so he has only a third-of the field (width)."
The main thing Fitzgerald hopes to avoid is punting from very deep in Alabama territory. He said he prefers to be 15 1/2 yards back from snapper Brian Selman. "If we're back close to our goalline, you know they are coming after it," he said.
Fitzgerald said he hasn't made great adjustments in his punting technique since coming to Alabama from Coral Springs, Fla.,, but "I keep learning how to punt every day. Nothing drastic. Just tweaking things."
He has improved every year. In 2006 he averaged 38.2 yards per punt and 34.8 net yards (calculated by yards punted and yards returned). In 2007 the numbers were 38.7 and 36.5. Last year he averaged 41.1 and 37.1. This year he has punted 51 times for a 42.1 average and 39 net average.
This season he has had eight kicks of 50 yards or more, 16 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line, and 11 fair catches. He was a candidate for the Ray Guy Award given to the nation's best punter.
The former high school quarterback also has shown the ability to run or pass either from punt formation or when holding for a kick.
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