Newcomer Takes Over At Punter

A recent CollegeFootballNews.com column on the worst coaching decisions of 2009 included an Alabama pass from punt formation against Texas in the BCS National Championship Game. Although there was more than "coaching decision" to the story of the Crimson Tide blunder, no one can argue that it was a poor decision.



To recap, Alabama had a terrible start against Texas. The offense lost 13 yards in three plays and faced fourth and 23 from the Bama 20. From punt formation, P.J. Fitzgerald attempted a pass to Dre Kirkpatrick. A good pass would have worked, because Kirkpatrick was behind the defender. But it was a poor pass and intercepted at the Alabama 37.

It reminded me of a situation in 2007 when Alabama was playing Florida State in Jacksonville. FSU had to use a time out because the Seminoles had not covered Bama's "gunners"—the outside men who are also eligible pass receivers. In the press box, I commented that I doubted Fitzgerald would have passed anyway and that FSU had probably wasted a time out. A young reporter sitting next to me said, "He might have. He was a quarterback in high school."

I replied, "I didn't know that. I just knew that he probably hadn't been a punter."

To be fair,Fitzgerald became a pretty good punter. He got better every year, from a 38.2 average as a freshman in 2006 to a 38.7 average as a soph, 41.1 as a junior, and 41.5 as a senior.

Now he is gone, and punter must be considered a question mark as the Crimson Tide heads to the 2011 season.

In the spring there was talk of offensive lineman Taylor Pharr possibly being a punter. Alabama Coach Nick Saban said during spring drills that Pharr had one of the strongest legs he had seen. Pharr, however, has had to give up football for medical reasons.

Most of the punting in the A-Day Game was done by heretofore unknown Zach Goehler, a walk-on freshman who had been a high school quarterback.

It wasn't pretty.

Following the spring game, Saban said the punter this year "will be a freshman." In addition to Goehler, the spring roster included other walk-on freshmen punters—Sam Buckingham and Jay Benson.

Presumably, though, Saban was speaking of incoming scholarshipped punter Jay Williams of Thomasville. Williams, a 6-4, 220-pound tight end on offense in high school, was judged to be the nation's sixth best high school punter and best in the Southeast. He averaged 37.2 yards per punt as a high school senior and had a long punt of 62 yards. He put seven punts inside the 20 and booted only two touchbacks. Williams averaged 46.1 yards per kick over the first four games of 2009 and averaged 48 yards per punt as a junior.

Alabama devotes a lot of time to the kicking game (although overall results of that work could be fairly said to be only adequate). This year, with new men at all key components of the kicking game, including punter, that work needs to pay off.

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