TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Special teams.
It's one of the areas of football, that if you are going to excel at the University of Alabama, you need to be good at, and for young players, it's a stepping stone to have a more meaningful role down the road.
And this year, the Crimson Tide's coverage on punts has been exceptional, even though there has been a revolving door of punters between Sam Johnson, Ty Perine, and Charlie Scott.
Opponents have managed just two returns for two yards on Alabama 13 punt attempts this season. On kickoffs, opposing teams are averaging just 19 yards a return.
"First of all, we try to get all of our players to buy into how important it is to learn how to play well on special teams," Saban said on Wednesday's coaches teleconference. "I always emphasize to the players, ‘If you’re on an NFL roster, which a lot of you wanna be someday, unless you’re the star player, you’ve gotta play on special teams, especially if you’re a linebacker, a DB, a tight end, a running back, a receiver.’ So, we really try to teach all of our players how to be on teams. We have some guys like [Jaylen] Moody, [Ale] Kaho, Brian Branch, DeMarcco Hellams, those guys are on a lot of core special teams and do really, really well. But we have a lot of our starters who contribute -- we like not for them to be on more than two -- that are really good teams players. Josh Jobe is a really good teams player. Jordan [Battle] is a really good teams player. Christian Harris is a really good teams player. But we just try to limit how much -- Patrick Surtain’s a good teams player. Daniel Wright. We just try to limit how much and how many teams they’re on. [DeVonta] Smitty’s a really good teams player.
"I think it’s a really, really important part of having a good team is to be really good on special teams, and our teams have been pretty good. You’ve always gotta get good execution from the specialists to have really good teams."
Since wide receiver Slade Bolden suffered an ankle sprain against Kentucky, senior wide out DeVonta Smith has handled punt-return duties. The electric Smith has returned four punts for a total of 68 yards with a long of 41.
It is still up in the air whether Bolden will retake the starting job once the coaching staff believes he is back at full strength.
"I look at it a little differently," Saban said on Wednesday night during his weekly press conference. "We have confidence in both guys. Losing Jaylen Waddle, Slade having to do it, then Smitty having to do it has created more depth at the position. We have even had Patrick [Surtain] back there for one. It’s forced us to develop other guys at those positions, which I think is healthy long-term.
"And I feel like we are always going to put the guy back there that gives us the best chance to secure the ball and make an explosive play in a punt return."