TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — SEC Country is breaking down each of Alabama’s position groups before the entire 2016 roster reports to campus.
Monday, we close out the series with a look at the Crimson Tide’s special teams, a group that returns most of its key components, but is in search for return men.
Names you need to know: JK Scott (junior), Adam Griffith (senior), Cole Mazza (senior)
Analysis: Special teams is the least sexy group of the three phases of football, but it can often change or decide games. Just look at Alabama’s national championship run: A big punt return touchdown by Cyrus Jones helped put the Crimson Tide over the top in the semifinal against Michigan State, while a flawless executed onside kick by Adam Griffith and Marlon Humphrey gave Alabama the extra possession it needed to hold off Clemson to win the title. Kenyan Drake’s 95-yard kickoff return touchdown helped matters as well.
Alabama returns most of its key components on special teams, as Griffith is back as the kicker, JK Scott returns as the punter and Cole Mazza is back at long snapper. Cooper Bateman is still the holder on field goals and extra points. Those are important elements to a team, as Alabama won’t have to worry about this group working on chemistry.
Griffith has been hit-or-miss at times throughout his career, but he performed his best when Alabama needed him the most in the Iron Bowl, going a perfect 5-for-5 against in-state rival Auburn. Scott hit a bit of a sophomore slump, but if his A-Day performance is any indication, expect the rising junior to return to his Ray Guy Award finalist form.
If there is one area Alabama has question marks, it’s in the return game. Cyrus Jones, Drake and Richard Mullaney are all gone, leaving holes on both the punt and kickoff return units.
During the spring, Calvin Ridley and Xavian Marks were the two players who received the most reps. Marks is a dynamic playmaker who is tough to bring down in the open field, so there’s a chance he could thrive in this role. The same goes for Ridley, although it’ll be interesting to see if Alabama keeps one of its top offensive weapons on special teams.
Key question: Will Alabama find return men who were as productive as Jones and Drake?
Jones led the nation with four punt return touchdowns, so replacing him won’t be easy. Drake’s touchdown return in the national championship game will go down as one of the biggest plays in Alabama history. Mullaney was essentially the backup at both positions, so he’ll be missed as well.
Bottom line: Alabama needs to find reliable return men to replace Jones on punt returns, as well as Drake and Mullaney on kickoff returns. Alabama has plenty of talented speedsters on the 2016 squad so it shouldn’t be a problem.