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Does Alabama have a secret weapon on special teams?

Photo comes via SEC Media Portal

He emphasized special teams in his 25-year tenure as head football coach at the University of Alabama, but does Kalen DeBoer have a secret weapon that could help him for the Crimson Tide as it did for Paul W. “Bear” Bryant?

College football was once about dominant defenses and power rushing attacks.

RELATED: Alabama desperately needs an elite difference maker up front on defense

However, offense has taken over with quarterbacks and wide receivers stealing the shine. The sport now has some of the best offensive minds as head coaches and marquee offensive coordinator giving defenses headaches.

Some forget special teams — especially the kicking game — matters in football until they see a kicker miss a field goal or a punter have a really bad attempt.

Alabama had an incredible kicker in Will Reichard, but he is with the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League.

Graham Nicholson, a transfer from the University of Miami at Ohio, is expected to take on the kicking duties, yet the Crimson Tide’s secret weapon comes from the punting aspect.

James Burnip, a native Australian, grabbed attention in 2023 with his improvement flipping the field.

He would have been the Tide’s Most Valuable Player of the Rose Bowl Game versus Michigan if Alabama won the matchup. The 6-foot-6, 220-pounder had his best performance against the Wolverines, averaging 50.3 yards per punt on seven attempts. He booted one attempt 62 yards and dropped five punts inside Michigan’s 20-yard line. Burnip averaged 47.6 yards per punt last year on 57 attempts. He posted 24 boots of 50-plus yards, including five punts of 60-plus yards.

Twenty-two of Burnip’s attempt — good for 39 percent — dropped inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. 

He has a chance to have an even better year in the fall and possibly win the Ray Guy Award.

Excellence at punter played at role in the past for national championship at Alabama under Nick Saban. P.J. Fitzgerald averaged 41.5 yards per punt in 2009, Cody Mandell totaled 44.3 yards per attempt in 2012, and JK Scott had 44.2 yards per attempt in 2015 and 43 yards per punt in 2017.

The Tide captured a national championship in each of those seasons. Burnip will be a weapon for Alabama football this year.

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

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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