New Mexico St Alabama Football

Alabama head coach Nick Saban talks with ESPN after a win over New Mexico State earlier this season. Saban has concerns about the team's punting and is not interested in hearing that the Tide has ascended to No. 1 in both major polls. [VASHA HUNT/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]

TUSCALOOSA — Two important youngsters that have been hampered by injuries lately could be available for Alabama’s next game against No. 21 Texas A&M, if all goes as planned this week.

Freshman nose guard D.J. Dale (knee) was held out of practice Wednesday as the team takes extra precautions with some of its previously-injured starters during this first off week. Meanwhile, freshman kicker Will Reichard has been held out of practice completely with a hip flexor suffered early against Southern Miss. He missed last Saturday’s game against Ole Miss, but will be reevaluated Monday with the expectation he could be available for Texas A&M.

“We’re kind of holding him out until Monday,” head coach Nick Saban said of Reichard. “So we think he should be ready for (the) next game, but these things are all day-to-day and nobody can predict how exactly something’s going to heal up. So we’ll find out on Monday.”

Dale, who suffered a patella strain late in the first half against Southern Miss but played some last Saturday against Ole Miss, hasn’t been spotted during the media viewing period the first two days this week, but apparently participated somewhat during team drills Tuesday, according to Saban.

Among Alabama’s other walking wounded, junior receiver Henry Ruggs III (hip pointer) has been dressed but limited, while junior offensive linemen Chris Owens and Jedrick Wills Jr. appeared to not be participating during Wednesday’s viewing period. Junior right guard Landon Dickerson had moved from right guard to center in Owens’ absence, just as he did against New Mexico State, while redshirt senior Matt Womack and redshirt junior Deonte Brown worked with the first-team line at right tackle and right guard, respectively.

Saban: ‘There’s competition’ at punter

Between 2014-17, punting was a team strength, thanks to the excellence of JK Scott.

Two years later, it is a major concern, as the Crimson Tide’s 35.45 average yards per punt ranks 128th out of 130 Division I programs, with only Coastal Carolina (35.15) and Buffalo (33.71) below it according to cfbstats.com.

“It’s not been what we’d like for it to be,” Saban said. “We need to develop a little bit more consistency at the position. There has been competition at the position. These guys are very capable. I just think they’ve got to be able to execute when it’s game time and go out there and do a little bit better job for us, which we certainly feel they’re capable of.”

Sophomore Skyler DeLong is averaging just 33.9 yards on eight punts, but less than 30 on his last five attempts, while Reichard is averaging 39.67 on three punts but hasn’t punted because of his injury.

It’s because of that inconsistency that Saban reiterated “there’s competition at the position” on Wednesday.

“Well, we’ve got to get better execution. I mean, … the thing about both guys is they’re very capable and they do a really good job of punting in the game,” Saban said Sept. 16. “We don’t have anybody else to punt besides one of those two guys or we could go for it on every fourth down, and that’s our options. … So, it’s something that we definitely need to improve on. That would be on the list of things that we need to improve.”

Saban not interested in No. 1 ranking

Alabama leapfrogged reigning national champion Clemson in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls this week, retaking the No. 1 spot it held all of last season before the title game upset.

The move came after Clemson narrowly escaped with a 21-20 win against unranked North Carolina, and the Crimson Tide produced another record-breaking offensive performance in a 59-31 win over Ole Miss.

Not even a No. 1 ranking is enough to get a reaction out of Saban, who had no interest for that sort of “rat poison” — his not-so-affectionate term for positive news coverage.

“I don’t think that rankings mean anything at this point,” Saban said. “The only time rankings mean anything is at the end of the season. At the end, if you don’t end up where you want to end up, it doesn’t really mean anything. So, I think everybody should be ignoring that right now.”

Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC) is in the midst of its first of two bye weeks this season before heading to No. 21 Texas A&M for its first Top 25 matchup of the season on Oct. 12 in College Station.

“It’s a work in progress. That’s something that you evaluate on a daily basis,” Saban said Wednesday morning. “I wasn’t real happy with the practice we had (Tuesday) as the first day out. Some guys did a good job, some guys were not what we’d like for them to be. But I think they’ll learn and grow and get better as the week goes on. We’ll just keep on keeping on. “

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