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2019 Position Preview: Special Teams

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Auburn was pretty durn good on special teams in 2018 and have a chance to be elite in 2019.

Auburn v Mississippi Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

SEC Media Days has come and gone. Auburn starts fall camp at the end of next week. Preseason watch lists are dropping daily. Hot takes are hotter than ever from the talking heads. The weather is teasing us with late September, early October temperatures. It’s almost here folks. Auburn football is coming.

But we must wait a tad longer before kickoff so it’s important we pass the time productively. So starting today, the wise scribes here at C&M will take an in depth look at each position for the 2019 version of the Auburn Tigers. Today, it’s the often overlooked component of a football team but one that is vitally important to any successful season - special teams.

Departures

  • Ryan Davis - 22 punt returns 117 yds 9.9 avg
  • Ian Shannon - Holder

Returners

  • Anders Carlson (rSophomore) - 15/25 FG (60%) 44/44 XP (100%)
  • Arryn Siposs (Junior) - 56 punts 2,476 yds 44.2 avg
  • Noah Igbinoghene (Junior) - 11 kick returns 311 yds 28.3 avg TD
  • Jordyn Peters (Junior) - 2 punt returns 39 yds 19.5 avg
  • JaTarvious Whitlow (rSophomore) - 3 kick returns 80 yds 26.7 avg
  • Christian Tutt (Sophomore) - 5 punt returns 65 yds 13 avg
  • Bill Taylor (Sophomore) - Long snapper

Newcomers

Strength - Experience

There were a bunch of new faces on Auburn’s special teams unit last season. Arguably the greatest kicker in Auburn history was gone as was his holder and long snapper. The Tigers also had to replace punt returner Stephen Roberts and were breaking in a new punter who had never actually played a game of American football in his life. Something that made itself evident early in the season.

Despite all the turnover, the results were encouraging. The Tigers finished 43rd overall in special teams per S&P+ but were top 5 in punt efficiency and kickoff efficiency, 16th in punt return efficiency and 39th in kick return efficiency. Almost all of those pieces return in 2019. Australian import Arryn Siposs got better and better as the season went on and has a chance to become the best punter in the SEC in 2019. Anders Carlson was money from inside 50 going 12/15 in his debut season. Noah Igbinoghene averaged 5 more yards a return last season and even found paydirt for the first time in his career as a kick returner.

But most exciting about last year’s special teams unit was its ability to block both field goals and punts. Marlon Davidson pulled off the rare feat of blocking a field goal in three straight games while Jordyn Peters became a punt block specialist, finishing 2nd in the nation last year with three punt blocks, one going for a touchdown against Arkansas. Auburn will have to find a new punt returner and will have a new man holding kicks, but the majority of this special teams unit returns in 2019 and has a chance to become one of the best in the country.

Weakness - Long Field Goals

Good news, the biggest weakness Auburn had last season is avoidable if the coaching staff just elects to play the field position game behind their great defense and not attempt 50+ yard field goals. Bad news, they decided not to do that time and time again last year....

I tweeted this stat last season but I feel like it’s important to address again. Before last year, Auburn’s five previous kickers attempted a grand total of 1 field goal from 50+ yards in their first season as starter. That one attempt came from Daniel Carlson. Anders Carlson? He attempted NINE field goals from that distance as a redshirt freshman, only hitting two of them. Anders absolutely has the power to hit from that deep but it was clear the accuracy had not yet developed but Auburn’s braintrust asked him to do it again and again despite having a good punter and a very good defense. It was maddening...

Hopefully, Auburn both won’t need Anders to hit so many field goals from that deep in 2019 and his accuracy from deep improves in those hopefully limited tries. It’s clear he’s got the tools to be another elite kicker for the Tigers over the next three years but that’s going to mean some patience from the coaching staff as well.

Prediction

My guess is Christian Tutt takes over as Auburn’s punt returner though there are a plethora of great options in guys like Javaris Davis and Matthew Hill. Iggy will undoubtedly continue to be the top guy on kick returns but I would look for Shaun Shivers and Anthony Schwartz to get more looks back there too. I listed Mark-Antony Richards and Ja’Varrius Johnson as two freshman who could have a chance to make an impact in the return game as well though I think it’s unlikely either see many meaningful reps back there next season.

Auburn’s special teams unit was really good last year and could be even better in 2019. While it will be hard to replicate the success they had in blocking punts and kicks, they will at least keep opposing coaches up late sweating over that aspect of the game plan given the proven success Auburn has had at both in recent seasons. I am really excited to see Siposs and Carlson’s respective developments and whether Iggy can break another 1-2 more returns off in 2019.

War Eagle!