Tigers have a phenomenal kicker in the house
(Photo by Acid Reign)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for a post-spring preview of the Auburn special teams. Given that returns aren’t live during A-Day, this is probably the most difficult unit to take anything meaningful off the field from that scrimmage. Still, there are a few things to watch. I like to watch the warmups. Kickers, punters and the returners usually hit the field first, and I key on how many missed kicks, shanked punts and loose balls I see.
This year, Daniel Carlson handled every kick and punt during the A-Day game and just about every warmup rep, as well. I think he missed one field goal attempt during warmups. That’s a pretty phenomenal day. Carlson as a punter didn’t impress me as much, but he came away from the game with a 43.8 yards per punt average. That’s a couple of yards higher than Auburn’s 41.5 yard average from last season. Considering also that every punt was fielded, and Carlson got no benefit from a rolling ball, that becomes even more impressive. I fully expect that Ian Shannon will be punting for the Tigers next fall, but it’s really nice to have the safety blanket back there, if that doesn’t pan out!
Auburn does have some replacing to do in the return games. In particular, punt returner Marcus Davis will be missed. He wasn’t exactly a big threat to break a long return, but he was about as reliable a set of hands back there, as Auburn has ever had. I don’t remember Davis losing a fumble on a punt his entire career. The main thing an Auburn punt returner has to do is field the ball, except when it is going to land inside the 10-yard line. A turnover on a punt return is often a catastrophic game changer.
During A-Day, we saw a number of guys fielding the ball. I figure that Stephen Roberts has a leg up on the competition, since he returned punts during the Iron Bowl last season. However, Roberts is a starting safety in a depth-challenged secondary. Auburn may need more than one guy over the course of the season.
The last couple of years, Kerryon Johnson has been a mainstay on the kick-return unit, and I expect that will continue. The good news is that Auburn is pretty loaded with very fast players on this roster, and there should be an able pool of kick returners. Again, much like the punt return game, ball security is key.
I’ve felt like Auburn’s kick return blocking has steadily declined the past couple of seasons, as Auburn averaged only 19.0 yards per return last season. I can remember just a few seasons ago when guys like Onterrio McCalebb and Corey Grant had Auburn well above 23–25 yards per return. Now, it’s a struggle to get the ball out to the 25. Here’s hoping that improves this season.
While return yardage was down, Auburn coverage was pretty stifling last season. The kick coverage unit allowed only 18.0 yards per return, and the punt coverage unit allowed just 3.2 yards per return. Of course on the kickoffs, Daniel Carlson had 57 touchbacks on 72 kickoffs. It could have been more, except the coaches seemed at times to try the coffin-corner kickoff inside the 5, to try and pin teams deep. I vote this year to just let Carlson kick away, every time.
As to place kicking, senior Daniel Carlson should be on the short list of kickers to watch. Last season Carlson was a Groza finalist and might have won it all had the offense performed better at the beginning and end of the season. Carlson was called on to kick way too many long field goals. He had 14 attempts from 40 yards and beyond and, incredibly, hit 11 of those. He had only one miss inside 40 yards on the season. This season, here’s hoping those possessions in enemy territory end in touchdowns.
A look at the schedule, after the jump!
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