Countdown to kickoff: 51

From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 51 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

You won't see him on the field very often, but Carson Tinker is as vital to the University of Alabama's success as a number of players who start at the so-called glamour positions. He doesn't throw touchdowns, catch them, or even prevent them. What he does is get the ball to the right place and let the kickers do the rest.

No. 51 on the Alabama roster has been a rock for the Crimson Tide at long snapper in his three seasons with the team. His job is a thankless one. No one notices a long snapper until he's messed up. Luckily for Tinker, that hasn't happened often.

Tinker handles both field goal and extra point snaps for UA, in addition to longer punt snaps. Last season, he went without a single botched snap, connecting on 83 short snaps and 36 long snaps. That kind of production doesn't have a price tag.

In fact, his reliability might have triggered coach Nick Saban offering a long snapper an athletic scholarship for the first time since coming to UA. Usually, long snappers are invited to walk on and do not receive scholarships. After honing in on the country's top prep long snapper, Cole Mazza (Liberty High/Bakersfield, Calif.), Saban thought him worthy of the offer. Mazza accepted and will enroll as part of the 2013 class.

Coaches in the SEC only get 25 scholarship offers to work with every year. To spend one on a long snapper says as much about the player who agreed to the offer as much as the guy he has a shot at replacing.