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Could Alabama go with Minkah Fitzpatrick on punt return? Nick Saban weighs in

Brett Davis - USA TODAY Sports

Before he was selected in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft to the Chicago Bears, Eddie Jackson was a leader on defense and a marquee play waiting to happen on special teams for Alabama. His ability to secure the ball, set up the wedge and weave through defenders made him a nightmare for opposing teams, until a leg injury versus Texas A&M ended his senior season. 

The combination of Trevon Diggs, Henry Ruggs III and Xavian Marks are all explosive with the ball in their hands, but muffing punts on occasions has caused for head coach Nick Saban to evaluate this position during the Crimson Tide’s bye week. Despite the big play ability from the trio in question, concerns grew on the faces of fans at the conclusion of each mishandled attempt in meetings against Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Arkansas and Tennessee.  

While Saban remains confident in all three names, media pundits decided to bring another individual into the conversations at Tuesday’s presser.

Junior defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick is known for having reliable hands.

His nine career interceptions – including four pix-sixes (school record) can account for it; however, Fitzpatrick also sealed the Tide’s win over Texas A&M back on Oct. 7 when he recovered an onside kick and proceeded to run out the clock. 

He’s made it known to the press that he does take reps in the return game, and according to Saban, the possibility of seeing the New Jersey native in that role has not been ruled out. 

“It’s not something he’s done since we’ve been here, but I think he is very capable of doing it,” Saban said of Fitzpatrick returning punts. “What we’ll do at the position is evaluate things this week.” 

Ball security is an important aspect for the Tide, and regardless of it having just two lost fumbles on the season, the opponents left on its schedule are ones that are very optimistic on defense. 

“Trevon Diggs did a good job of doing for a long time and Ruggs is very explosive, but the things about it is when guys don’t have success it’s what is their confidence level and how comfortable are they,” Saban said. “Judgement and ball security are very important.” 

As much as Fitzpatrick would make a difference on special teams, when Alabama lost Eddie Jackson for the season a year ago, it took a lot from the Tide on defense. Although the former five-star accepted the challenge and filled in admirably for Jackson at safety, the versatility that Fitzpatrick possesses is not carried in spades on this year’s group.  

Even in all the speculation, Saban and special teams coach Joe Pannunzio will evaluate all four players this week and choose the one that gives the best chance at consistency. 

The Tide will host LSU next week at 7:00 p.m. (CT) via CBS. 

Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @Smsmith_TDALMag.

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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