TUSCALOOSA – Even Alabama’s Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback has a role to play on special teams, and Tua Tagovailoa takes it very seriously.
“Yeah, you know, I spend more time practicing my holding more than I actually do my throwing,” the Crimson Tide junior left-hander joked Monday after team’s initial depth chart of the season revealed him as the first-team holder on field goals and extra points.
All kidding aside, Tagovailoa doesn’t mince words when discussing his new special teams responsibility.
“Holding is actually a really, really hard thing. I literally think that’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Tagovailoa said. “Like, to match with the center and put the ball down so that the laces are facing forward – that’s not an easy task. Now if it’s in the back and you have to rotate it, sometimes (when) you rotate it and the ball slips off your finger that’s holding it. I mean, it’s hard.”
Of course, the difficulty is only elevated based on the situation.
Even Tagovailoa – who famously entered at halftime of the 2018 national championship game trailing 13-0 and led Alabama back for a 26-23 win in overtime over Georgia – worries about the “what-ifs.”
“I think of a situation where let’s say it’s 6-6 and it’s the fourth quarter and I have to go out there to hold and we have to kick a field goal and there’s two seconds left,” Tagovailoa said. “I’m thinking if I catch the ball and it’s not (lined up correctly) and I have to spin it and it goes off my fingers, that’s going to be my fault. So I’ve been working on that a good amount.”
Alabama’s special teams unit received some clarity Monday when true freshman Will Reichard was named the starting place kicker, supplanting sophomore Joseph Bulovas in a move that has been long expected since the nation’s top-rated kicker from Hoover shined in the team’s A-Day Spring game. Along with his duties on extra points and field goals, Reichard was also named a co-starter at punter along with returning sophomore Skyler DeLong.
“He’s done a nice job,” Saban said of Reichard. “He’s been very consistent in his performance in both areas. I think the competition that we have in both punting and kicking have probably helped everybody get better. And it’s good to have a situation I think we have right now. And it’ll be interesting to see how he responds in a game when he gets an opportunity.”
Consistent kicking, be it on field goals or extra points, has been an issue at Alabama the past several years, including last season when Bulovas and then-senior Austin Jones combined to make just 15-of-20 field goals and 83-of-92 extra points.
In fact, the only aspect of the Tide’s special teams that hasn’t had fans sweating the past few years is its return game, where speedy receivers Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle will once again pair with senior corner Trevon Diggs to provide Alabama a dynamic return option should any team be foolish enough to kick it in their direction.
“I do actually enjoy it,” Ruggs said of playing special teams. “(But) you don’t get many returns, so if you do get a chance to return (it) you do it. I’m a team player, so if they ask me to play special teams I do it.”
Saban updates injury situation
While most of the more significant preseason injuries appear behind Alabama, there are still a few that could impact Saturday’s season opener against Duke.
True freshman defensive end Justin Eboigbe missed his third-straight practice Monday with an unspecified “foot injury” and is considered “questionable” to play against Duke, according to head coach Nick Saban.
“He’s kind of day-to-day,” Saban said Monday. “I would say he’s probably questionable for this particular game, so we just have to wait and see how he responds and how he goes from there.”
Reserve offensive lineman Hunter Brannon will also be out, as will junior guard Deonte Brown, who must serve the remaining four games of his six-game suspension levied by the NCAA prior to last season’s College Football Playoff.
“Everybody else we expect to be able to practice and see how they respond and develop through the course of the week if they are coming off of injuries,” Saban said.