Special teams should be a strength in 2023

Special teams can win or lose games and finish or end seasons. Alabama football has seen both because of its special forces, which should be among the most reliable in the country in 2023.

For starters, Alabama is bringing back veteran kicker Will Reichard for his fifth season. Reichard broke the Crimson Tide during the 2020 national championship season, where he became a full-time starter at placekicker. He had a perfect season (14-14 field goals, 84-84 extra points) and has been one of the best kickers in the nation ever since. Reichard has gone 62-75 on career field goal attempts and has scored several big kicks.

Alabama football’s all-time leading scorer is set to return for another season and should be a stable option for a Bama team using a new quarterback on offense.

Alabama also expects to bring back punter James Burnip and long snapper Kneeland Hibbett. Both Burnip and Hibbett will begin their third year as starters at their respective positions and have been solid and consistent players.

Burnip averaged over 42 yards per boat in 2022. He should continue to improve as a punter, helping the Crimson Tide pin his opponents deep, limit return yardage, and win field position battles.

Hibbett may be overlooked, but the importance of returning a third-year snapper along with the kicker and punter cannot be overstated. Hibbett’s presence should go a long way towards promoting the chemistry and camaraderie of the kicking units.

Finally, Alabama has the luxury of returning Kool-Aid McKinstry for another season. McKinstry expects he will enter his draft-eligible junior season as one of the best cornerbacks in the country and will lead the Crimson Tide defense.

He’s also an electrifying punt returner. McKinstry had an opportunity to return punts when Jojo Earle went down with an injury at fall 2022 camp and never gave up the role. He amassed 332 punt return yards and an average of 15.8 yards per return, though opposing punt units actively avoided him throughout the second half of the season.

Kool-Aid McKinstry ranked second in the nation and led the SEC in punt return yards and ranked third in the nation and second in the SEC in punt return average. Perhaps more impressively, he’s accumulated most of that mileage in the first five games of the season.

In the last eight games, McKinstry has had limited return opportunities, averaging just 11 punt return yards. However, he had returns of 45, 44, 42, 40, 31, 29, and 27 yards in his first five games. The one thing McKinstry never did was break one for a touchdown. It’s a pretty safe bet he’ll lead one back in 2023.

The only specialty role Alabama football needs to replace is the kick returner, a position that is becoming less important as fair catches and touchbacks become more common. Running back Jahmyr Gibbs will take over primary kick-return duties for the Tide in 2022 and will leave for the NFL draft.

Returning receiver Ja’Corey Brooks had the second most kickoff return opportunities. He could take over the job full-time in 2023. If Alabama decides to go in a different direction, there are many quick options to choose from.

Alabama football is in a transition period, replacing many key players on offense and defense, and likely replacing both coordinators. The consistency of these experienced specialists should help the team tremendously.

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