Tony's Take: Examining Alabama's Kicking Conundrum Featured

22 Aug 2017 Tony Tsoukalas | BamaInsider.com
Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos struggled during A-Day, missing both of his field goal attempts. Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos struggled during A-Day, missing both of his field goal attempts. Laura Chramer

Of the many ties Nick Saban has in the coaching world, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter isn’t one of them.

The two have never worked together and have met on the field only once — a 1995 game between Michigan State and Boston College, as Saban served in his first year as head coach of the Spartans while Koetter was the offensive coordinator for the Eagles. (In case you're wondering, Saban came out on top, 25-21.)

That being said, it's easy to see how the Alabama head coach could relate with his Tampa Bay counterpart.

The Buccaneers made news Saturday when they released kicker Roberto Aguayo after drafting him in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. The decision to select a kicker in the second round instantly raised eyebrows. However, Aguayo, seemingly automatic while at Florida State, was thought to be the kind of sure bet worth investing in. Instead, the rookie kicker connected on just 22 of 31 (71 percent) of his field goal attempts, making just 4 of 11 from 40 or more yards while also missing two extra points.

Like Koetter, Saban knows what it's like to see a highly-rated kicker struggle under pressure at a higher level.

While Saban didn’t make the same investment in his kickers as Koetter, he also spent Saturday reeling over his team’s performance in the kicking game. Concern was raised this offseason as walk-on kicker Andy Pappanastos and punter JK Scott combined to go just 3 of 6 during A-Day. The answer was supposed to come in true freshman Joseph Bulovas, who joined the Crimson Tide as the No. 1 kicker in the 2017 class this summer.

However, following Alabama’s first scrimmage of fall camp Saturday, Saban was left no more confident in his team’s ability to put the ball through the uprights than he was this spring.

“I think we have things to work on relative to some of the other areas in the kicking game,” Saban said while praising the other aspects of Alabama’s special teams Saturday. “Missed a couple field goals. We had a couple blocked because we didn't really have good protection. So we really need to work hard on that part of it.”

While it’s certainly not time to write off Bulovas’ career one scrimmage into his time with the program, seeing yet another top kicker fail to live up to the hype has to be frustrating for Saban.

Alabama has dealt with inconsistencies on field goals the past three seasons with Adam Griffith lining up at kicker. The No. 2 rated kicker in the 2012 class converted on 21 of 28 (75 percent) of his tries last season after making 23 of 32 (71.9 percent) in 2015 and 12 of 19 (63.2 percent) in 2014.

Before that it was Cade Foster, who never seemed to live up the No. 10 ranking he was given upon joining the Tide in the 2010 class. Foster made just 25 of his combined 44 attempts during his four-year college career.

Leigh Tiffin, the son of former Alabama kicker Van Tiffin, was the last regular kicker to make at least 80 percent of his kicks in a season, going a stellar 30 of 35 (85.7 percent) for the Tide in 2009. Unfortunately for Alabama, the former Tide legend is all out of offspring to send to Tuscaloosa.

Saban has also been burned by the ones that got away. Former Alabama commit Eddy Pineiro, who spurned the Tide to play stay at home and sign with Florida in 2015, connected on 21 of 25 (84 percent) of his kicks last season. The SEC’s top kicker, Daniel Carlson wasn’t recruited by Alabama but grew up a fan of the Tide. Last year, he was a Lou Groza Award finalist, connecting on 28 of 32 (87.5 percent) of his kicks for in-state rival Auburn.

There’s no use crying over any of that now. Unlike Koetter, Saban won’t be cutting one of his kickers loose anytime soon. Instead, the head coach will do what he has always done — support and try to develop whoever he has on the roster.

As the head coach put it, Alabama will need plenty of work at the position. History says the Tide will need plenty of patience, too.

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