John Kimball “JK” Scott finished his career as one of the best specialists in Alabama football history and arguably the best punter of the Nick Saban era.
His ability in setting defenses up to dictate the pace of the game, along with controlling field position, is what ultimately helped the Crimson Tide earn three Southeastern Conference titles (2014-16) and a pair of College Football Playoff national championships (2015, 2017) during his four-year tenure from 2014 to 2017.
However, as great as Scott was, freshman Skyler Delong possesses the traits to be just as lethal or maybe even better than his predecessor. Rated a three-star from South Carolina, Delong’s height – 6’4” — is where Scott’s was upon him arriving to Tuscaloosa in 2014.
He grabbed attention as a five-star prospect via Chris Sailer Kicking site, while being ranked third nationally by Kohl’s Kicking and sixth from ESPN.
After choosing Alabama over Tennessee and Rutgers, Delong turned in a productive A-Day game performance in April – totaling a long attempt of 46 yards and having six punts dropped inside the 20-yard line.
Two areas that Delong will have an advantage over Scott come in coaching and experienced players on defense. Before he took a special teams role at Oregon, Bobby Williams served on Saban’s staff as tight ends/special teams coach from 2008 to 2015 and was a “special assistant” to Saban from 2016 to 2017.
Despite having some success in the kicking/punting game with Williams, he was primarily involved with running backs, defensive backs and tight ends throughout his coaching tenure and special teams was thrown on him as a secondary job.
Jeff Banks, on the other hand, has primarily been on special teams since his collegiate days at Washington State University. He played four years at punter and had a huge senior year, averaging 43.4 yards per attempt.
Banks led the Pac-10 Conference in punting during the 1997 season– helping the Cougars notch a 10-2 record and an appearance in the Rose Bowl. Shortly after his playing career, Banks worked with kickers and punters as an assistant at Washington State and then would go to Idaho State (2000-03) and University of Texas-El Paso where he served in the same capacity. Although the Miners led Conference USA in all areas of special teams in 2011 and 2012, it was Banks’ work at Texas A&M that landed him at Alabama.
In five years with the Aggies (2013-17), Banks built a program that was one of the nation’s best on special teams. Texas A&M was third nationally in net punt average in 2017 (45.6) and sixth in 2016 (43), while boasting the nation’s second-best punt return unit that averaged 17.1 yards a return. Both Drew Kazer and Shane Tripuka blossomed under Banks, as Kazer earned All-American honors in 2013 and Tripuka became a two-year starter (2015-16) after coming in as a walk-on. Prior to getting selected in this year’s NFL Draft to the Arizona Cardinals, Christian Kirk recorded six punt return touchdowns in his career at Kyle Field.
As for experience on defense, Scott’s freshman year was with a team that no one knew who would rise as leaders.
He had to take on an unsung hero role of making sure to put the Tide in situations where it could effectively disrupt opposition. The combination of not understanding the alpha males on that side of the ball and having a first-year starter at quarterback in Blake Sims, made it to where Scott was mindful of how to position his punts in controlling the field.
Delong won’t have that fear.
Alabama returns a roster filled with monsters, including Raekwon Davis, Isaiah Buggs, Mack Wilson, Dylan Moses, Terrell Lewis, Anfernee Jennings and Deionte Thompson. Should he make a mistake, Delong can trust these guys to cover his tracks at keep opponents at bay.
One of the nation’s top punters has a chance to settle into who he is as a player and it will be exciting to watch what he does in the fall.