Ever-improving Mandell turning into valuable commodity for Tide
Punters are not often thought of as weapons. This season, however, Cody Mandell has become just that for top-ranked Alabama.
“I think every year that Cody’s punted — and this is his fourth year — he has gotten more and more consistent and more and more confident in his preparation and approach to how he goes about what he does,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said this week. “I think his hard work and that approach has benefited to his improvement, and every year he’s improved and punted better.”
The senior from Lafayette, La., currently ranks fourth in the SEC in punting, averaging 47.0 yards per punt. He boomed one punt against Virginia Tech 61 yards, his longest of the season thus far. But when it comes to effective punting, it’s not always about distance. Hang time and placement are also key.
Perhaps a better barometer of just how good Mandell — aided of course by Alabama’s punt coverage unit — has been this season is the punt return yardage of Alabama’s opponents. Ole Miss totaled four yards. Colorado State zero. Texas A&M 15. And Virginia Tech 41, thanks to one 43-yard return by Kyshoen Jarrett.
Another important stat when it comes to punting? Number of punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Mandell dropped three inside the 20 against Ole Miss, one against Colorado State, none against Texas A&M and four against Virginia Tech.
Pinning an opponent back deep in its own territory isn’t as flashy as a TD pass, a long TD run or a pick-six — all certainly more likely to make the ESPN highlights before a well-executed punt — but when it comes to winning games, what Mandell is doing on Alabama fourth downs this season is just as important.
“So far this year he’s done a fantastic job in terms of average, ball placement, hang time,” Saban said. “Until the last game we had been a little bit unlucky on getting them inside the 20 and some of that is the way the ball bounces, but (Mandell) can Aussie kick, which is the end-over-end kick which sometimes gives you a good hop, and I think that’s beneficial. He worked hard on doing that. He didn’t know how to do that until last year.”
Yes, even punters — like baseball pitchers — like to add variety to their arsenal. At least those punters who truly want to excel.
“Cody’s done a really good job, and it’s important to him,” Saban said. “I think for any player at any level to look at what Cody’s been able to do through his hard work and perseverance and developing confidence and being positive in his approach to what he’s trying to do, he’s developed into a really good punter.”
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