Crimson Tide Position Preview: Special Teams
Each week leading up to Alabama's A-Day game, I will highlight two position groups and preview both the presumed starters and key depth pieces, as well as players that could challenge for a starting role this season. Today, let's take a look at one of the Tide's most important, but oft forgotten, groups: special teams.
Will Reichard joined the Crimson Tide in 2019 as a three-star prospect, but was the highest rated kicker in the nation, per 247Sports. Hailing from Hoover High School just outside of Birmingham, Reichard chose Alabama over the likes of Georgia, LSU and Oklahoma. Since joining the program, Reichard has been the go-to answer for all of the Tide's kicking duties, handling both field goals and kickoffs.
In three seasons, Reichard is near perfect on field goals, going 40-of-49, and has been extremely reliable on kickoffs, booting nearly 60% of his attempts for touchbacks in 2021.
Chase Allen joined the Tide in 2020 as a walk-on and was immediately thrust into action, replacing an injured Reichard for the first four games of the season, as well as a late season matchup with LSU. While Allen has made just five career starts, the junior has appeared in eight games, handling only kickoffs. Across Allen's career, though all of his appearances came in 2020, he has 41 kicks with nine touchbacks, averaging 29.5 yards per kick.
Expect Allen to continue to serve in his role as Reichard's backup as well as provide some kickoff relief late in games that have been decided.
So. Reid Shuback, 6-foot, 185 lbs.
James Burnip, a former Australian Rules Football player hailing from Victoria, AU, joined the Crimson Tide in 2021 despite having never played a down of American football. In his first season in Crimson, Burnip averaged a pedestrian 38.3 yards per kick, but managed to finish the year with 23 fair catches and 15 punts inside the 20.
While Burnip is likely the starter for now, improvement from his freshman season will need to be made if he wishes to keep the job with a former all conference player behind him on the depth chart.
Jack Martin transferred to the Crimson Tide in 2021 after spending his freshman season at Troy where he finished as a member of the All-Sun Belt first team. Martin handled both kickoff and punting duties for the Trojans, averaging nearly 57 yards per kickoff and 46.12 yards per punt. While the Tide certainly has its kicker locked down, the punter position is one that could be much more open ended.
Despite not finding his way into the punt unit last season, expect Martin to at least compete for the starting job this spring.
After joining the Crimson Tide in 2021 and securing the job late in fall camp, Kneeland Hibbett enters his sophomore season as the incumbent long snapper. Hailing from Florence, AL, Hibbett was the Tide's snapper in all of it's games last season and finished the year perfect.
Expect Hibbett to remain as the starter this spring and heading into the fall.
RS Jr. Gabe Pugh, 6-foot-5, 273 lbs.
So. Kade Wehby, 5-foot-9, 185 lbs.
Jahmyr Gibbs/ Jermaine Burton
Reports from the Tide's most recent scrimmage indicate that both Jermaine Burton and Jahmyr Gibbs, two transfer portal gems, will be handling the kick return duties this spring. Both players are extremely explosive athletes that feature great open-field running ability. For Gibbs, he was one of Georgia Tech's main return men last season, finishing the year with 23 returns for 589 yards and a score. As for Burton, the former four-star took kicks back in his high school days in California and was expected to potentially fill that role next season for Georgia prior to transferring.
Both Gibbs and Burton are threats to take every ball they touch to the house and it should be no different at the kick returner position.
Kendrick Law/Aaron Anderson
Kendrick Law and Aaron Anderson are two very exciting freshmen entering their first season with the Crimson Tide. Both players are former four-stars hailing from Louisiana that feature similar builds and excellent skillsets. Law, standing at 5-foot-11 193 lbs., is a speedy receiver that makes people miss in the open field regularly. Anderson, who stands slightly smaller at 5-foot-9, 184 lbs. is also extremely speedy and dominated in the return game in high school, finishing his career with 20 touchdowns.
While neither will likely over take Burton or Gibbs for a starting role, both players could probably fill in with ease if needed.
Kool-Aid McKinstry/ JoJo Earle/ Christian Leary
The trio of Kool-Aid McKinstry, JoJo Earle and Christian Leary will all be in stiff competition for the role of punt returner. While Earle is the only one of the three with real experience from last season, his experience likely will not help him much heading into this year as he struggled in 2021, muffing several punts and never breaking a return longer than 29 yards. As for McKinstry and Leary, both are extremely explosive athletes that could certainly fill the role well and will likely compete for it.
No matter which of these three takes over as the starter, opposing punters will likely aim for the sidelines all season long.