Jahmyr Gibbs’ impact at Alabama was profound, with the Georgia Tech transfer leading the Crimson Tide in rushing yards (926) and receptions (44) — but Roll Bama Roll’s Erik Evans has pointed out a facet of his game in which his impact was overblown: special teams. As Evans explains, Gibbs was a net negative in the return game.
“Speedy Jahmyr Gibbs handled kick returns for the Tide last season, but he was largely ineffective,” Evans prefaced before saying, “Alabama was just 96th in the nation in returns at 17.71 YPA, and even had just two explosive returns of 30+ yards, with no scores.”
As Evans notes, returning third-year wideout Ja’Corey Brooks was also ineffective, making the return game one that is still in need of a solution; even if the return game has been de-emphasized in general.
“Others that saw action were even less effective, including Ja’Corey Brooks,” Evans said. “There is plenty of zip on the Tide roster, but finding the right pairing of people will be required, even though the KR game has increasingly been deemphasized with new rules regarding touchbacks. It may not be exciting, and the Tide lacks a returning weapon here. But it’s fortunately also at the least critical spot of the entire Special Teams unit.”
Alabama Special Teams the ‘Best Returning Unit’
Evans believes that the major turnover the Crimson Tide is experiencing across the board — particularly at both coordinator spots and under center — makes the special teams the de facto best returning unit.
“Much of the Alabama Crimson Tide is in flux for 2023: everything from both coordinator spots to a decimated defensive backfield,” Evans prefaced before saying, “But there is one unit that returns almost everyone, and though it is strange to say this, Alabama’s special teams could be the best returning unit for the Crimson Tide, at least early in the season.”
While the kick returning game was somewhat of a weakness for the unit, Evans points out that the opposite is true for the punt return game.
“Punt Returning, however, is a very different critter,” Evans prefaced before saying, “Last year, Alabama was 3rd in the nation in PRA, at 16.93 YPA with two scores. ‘Bama also led the nation in total yards by way of PR, with almost 500 freebies. Electric Kool-Aid McKinstry returns again at punt returner, where he was 2nd in the nation last year in both total yards and YPA. Kool-Aid also led the country in explosive returns, notching eight returns that went at least 20 yards, and half of those were 30 or longer. Interestingly enough, though ‘Bama had two PR scores, McKinstry had neither of them. The free points are nice, but reliably gaining yards per touch on change of possessions was the far more consistent weapon for the Alabama offense.”
Will Reichard Returns Looking For ‘Draft Inertia’
Evans dedicated a good portion of his special teams preview discussing kicker Will Reichard and his desire to become a highly-touted NFL draft prospect. Specifically, Evans feels a big reason why Reichard is back in order to receive the “draft inertia” he desires.
“Super Senior All-SEC Will Reichard returns for one final ride in the saddle, hoping to finally get the draft inertia he’s been criminally overlooked for,” Evans wrote. “Will has the leg to get the ball through the back of the endzone, but Alabama’s coverage emphasizes kicking the ball right to the goal line and then baiting opponents to test their luck vs. the Tide’s speed. Will forced a TB on 48% of his attempts, but his distance was filthy-good, right at 63 yards per attempt. For those trying to do the math, that means 50% of all of Will’s kicks landed at the two-yard line.”
While many may remember Reichard for missing a 52-yard field goal to take a 52-49 lead on Tennessee with 21 seconds left in the game during Alabama’s first 2022 loss on October 15 in Knoxville, Reichard has the chance to redirect the narrative towards his NFL-worthy leg.