Last season, the Auburn special teams units were a team strength that often went overlooked as the Tigers made the biggest single-season turnaround in the history of college football. The field goal block unit, and Chris Davis in particular, received plenty of praise for creating the biggest play of the season – if not in the history of the program – but the other elements of special teams play were solid all season.
Auburn had one of the best punter-kicker combinations in seniors Steven Clark and Cody Parkey, respectively. Clark averaged 42.6 yards per punt, and on 26 of his 56 punts he held opponents inside their own 20-yard line. He was also kept the ball in the air long enough for the coverage team to run down and force opponents into 26 fair catches, and therefore, disallowing any return.
Parkey was a solid 15-for-21 on field goal attempts, though three of his misses came from beyond 50 yards. He also converted 66 of 67 extra point tries, and led the nation in touchbacks in 2013. The kicker’s ability to kick the ball deep, and the kickoff team’s capacity to cover the kick play a huge role in the field position game. With Parkey booming kickoffs into the end zone, a start at the 25-yard line was almost a given.
Davis was a big play waiting to happen as a punt returner. He averaged 18.7 yards per return last season, including an 85-yard touchdown return against Tennessee. Tre Mason handled the majority of the kick returns, and took one 100 yards to the house in the season opener against Washington State. Davis also scored on another return – which you may remember.
Of course, as great as the special teams were last season, Davis, Clark, Parkey and Mason are gone now. Who can we expect to replace them? And more importantly, can the newcomers make the same impact on games in 2014?
|K||38||Daniel Carlson||Redshirt Freshman||6-4, 215||Colorado Springs, CO|
|39||Alex Kiviklys||Junior||6-1, 191||Marietta, GA|
|P||28||Jimmy Hutchinson||Redshirt Freshman||6-2, 198||Marietta, GA|
|85||Matthew Shiel||Freshman||5-11, 195||Doncaster, AUS|
Redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson appears to be a lock to take over for Parkey as the primary placekicker. He performed very well this spring, and was named the special teams MVP during the spring game. Carlson is big for a kicker at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, and has a strong leg.
The competition to replace Clark is not as clear. Carlson could possibly punt in addition to his kicking duties, though Jimmy Hutchinson, Matthew Shiel and Tyler Stovall are all fighting to make sure he doesn’t.
Hutchinson entered fall camp as the favorite to win the job after finishing atop the pecking order following spring practice. He is on scholarship, which could give him an edge. Stovall was the primary competition in the spring before Shiel recently joined in.
According to special teams coordinator Scott Fountain, there could be more than one punter utilized this season.
“You have to find a guy that either A, can do it all for you, can direct the punts, do sky punts, etc., or you can do a punt by-committee,” Fountain told Joel Erickson of AL.com. “Maybe this guy’s good at this, this guy’s good at that, and we’re kind of looking at both avenues.”
|KR||20||Corey Grant||Senior||5-11, 203||Opelika, AL|
|5||Ricardo Louis||Junior||6-2, 212||Miami Beach, FL|
|PR||4||Quan Bray||Senior||5-10, 187||LaGrange, GA|
|14||Stephen Roberts||Freshman||6-0, 180||Opelika, AL|
Corey Grant appears to be the clubhouse leader to handle most of the kick return duties. With his blazing speed, Grant is a natural fit capable of going the distance any time he touches the football. He proved it last season with a 90-yard touchdown return against Tennessee, which was one of only five kick returns the senior had in 2013. Ricardo Louis will see some action as a kick returner also. Johnathan Ford, Myron Burton and Roc Thomas could factor in as well.
There are as many as six players that are in the mix to return punts this fall. Three players currently on the roster – Quan Bray, Marcus Davis and Travon Reed – saw action as a punt returner last season. Bray received the most work, returning 12 punts for 61 yards.
Bray and Jonathon Mincy were the early favorites, and some thought Robensen Therezie might be a player to watch. Davis, Jonathan Ford and Gray King have also been working with the specialists. However, Stephon Roberts, a true freshman defensive back from Opelika, could be the man to beat.