It’s been awhile since Auburn has had to worry about special teams. In fact, over the course of history, Auburn football has been blessed with a pretty solid group of kickers. From the days of Al Del Greco, to Win Lyle, Matt Hawkins, Damon Duval (at times), Wes Byrum, and now Daniel Carlson, the Tigers have usually had an actual weapon at placekicker.
You’d have to go back nearly a decade at Auburn to find a time when placekicking wasn’t a true moneymaker for the Tigers. In Wes Byrum’s sophomore year of 2008, he made just under 58% of his field goals. The next-lowest percentage in the last decade came in 2013, when Cody Parkey hit just over 71% of his kicks (and oh what could’ve been had he made one more at some point during the national championship game vs FSU). All in all, placekicker’s been pretty good to Auburn.
Punting’s been a bit of a different issue, though. In Gus Malzahn’s tenure at Auburn, it’s been hit-or-miss on whether he’ll get a guy that can handle the duties all on his own. Yes, in 2013 Steven Clark had a solid senior year in which he averaged over 42 yards a kick, and Kevin Phillips was pretty good over the past two seasons, but 2014 was a mess with Jimmy Hutchinson splitting time with Daniel Carlson. Now Auburn will have to wonder if Ian Shannon can pick up the slack left by Phillips’ absence. Shannon is the heir apparent, but averaged under 31 yards per kick last year (in limited action, mind you).
Malzahn would love to have Shannon win the job, leaving Carlson to focus on his placekicking responsibilities, but Shannon didn’t really separate himself enough in the spring for Malzahn to feel comfortable about it at SEC Media Days.
So what are the other options? Well, there’s Legatron himself, who we know can pretty much do everything anyway.
But seriously, Carlson averaged a respectable 39.6 yards per punt as a freshman in 2014 when he split time with Jimmy Hutchinson, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Obviously, the coaching staff would love to keep him unburdened for when actual placekicking duties come along.
What about the other Carlson, though? Daniel’s younger brother Anders has entered the fold as well.
Anders Carlson was ranked as the 2nd best kicking prospect in the land coming out of high school, and as high as the 24th best punting prospect as well. He’s a definite option should things not work out with Shannon taking over for Kevin Phillips.
One solid silver lining for Auburn is that some of the unsung guys are returning as well. Tyler Stovall (holder) and Ike Powell (long snapper) will both be back for another go-around on the Plains, providing key consistency for Carlson and whoever does grab the starting punter spot.
As for the return game, Kerryon Johnson should be back for another year as Auburn’s main kickoff return specialist. In 2016, Johnson averaged a hair over 22 yards per return. In the spring it was Kam Martin and Eli Stove joining him. While Martin returned only one kick last year, with Stove returning none, the desire to put those two back there is legitimized as they both boast incredible speed.
On the punt return side of things, it looks as though Stephen Roberts will get the nod just as he did last season. Roberts posted a 16.7 yards per return average, including a huge runback that gave Auburn great field position early on in the Iron Bowl. He’s a definite threat to bust a big one, and he gives the Tigers a real weapon in the punt return game.
More to come, War Eagle!