TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There is a conspicuous gap on Page 13 of the Alabama football media guide.
Dedicated to the special teams, just one word appears below the space reserved for returning starters.
The Crimson Tide lost more than just the veteran punter and kicker who’ve received all the preseason headlines. Practically the entire well-oiled kicking and returning skilled units are gone, too.
Long snapper, holder, Javier Arenas they’re all somewhere else this year.
Perhaps the positions that is easiest replaced is the dual role that belonged to the record-breaking Arenas. Having a stockpile of explosive athletes to choose from makes deciding who runs back kids a little easier than having to recruit a specialty player like a kicker.
Sophomore running back Trent Richardson is settling into his job returning kickoffs while receivers Julio Jones, Darius Hanks and Marquis Maze have shared time on punt return duties in practice. The next wave, coach Nick Saban said, includes true freshman Keiwone Malone and Corey Grant.
Richardson and Jones each returned one kickoff last year and Mark Ingram’s backfield mate is looking forward to the rush that comes with running straight at 11 defenders. He didn’t get many opportunities in high school as most opponents kicked away from the explosive runner. One kicker learned why the hard way.
“I ran up to him, acted like I was going to truck him, went to side and shook him, came back and ran him over, or something like that,” Richardson said smiling. “That was crazy.”
Richardson’s style varies a little from the one Arenas used to rewrite the record book in his four years. He doesn’t have the same speed as the Kansas City Chief draft pick,
The art of the return requires much more than pure speed, though.
“Just really, you got to be patient,” Richardson said.
Filling the long snapping and placekick-holding jobs also require replacing consistent seniors. Brian Selman never botched a snap in four years in Tuscaloosa while P.J. Fitzgerald was equally reliable setting the ball in time for kicker Leigh Tiffin.
Carson Tinker is expected to assume Selman’s duties after appearing in just the Chattanooga win during his redshirt freshman season.
Saban likes his top option in Tinker while looking at bringing back the old way of doing things with the holder. Fitzgerald had the job because of his experience and his other specialty job allowed the time to work with Tiffin more in practice. But with two true freshman battling for the punting job, Saban is looking for a different alternative the one he knows a lot about.
“When I was a quarterback, which I know was many, many, many moons ago … if you played quarterback, you were the holder,” Saban said.
With that, he said quarterbacks Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron were sharing the job.