Summer School: What we know, don’t know about Auburn’s special teams
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final entry in a nine-part series breaking down Auburn’s 2019 roster position by position leading up to SEC media days, which take place July 15-18 in Hoover.
AUBURN — Auburn’s special teams units, specifically kick coverage, experienced a complete turnaround last season, much to the delight of the coaches overseeing them.
The Tigers went from ranking dead last nationally in yards surrendered per kick return (27.2) and 109th in yards surrendered per punt return (11.4) in 2017 to ranking 39th (19.4) and ninth (3.4), respectively, in 2018. They also blocked seven kicks and punts combined (one of which was returned for a touchdown), which tied for the most in the FBS.
And Auburn returns a lot of the players who played starring roles on those special teams, including defensive back Jordyn Peters (who blocked three punts) and defensive end Marlon Davidson (who blocked three kicks).
Here’s a look at what else we know and don’t know about the Tigers on special teams:
Place-kicker: Anders Carlson (So.) | Punter: Arryn Siposs (Jr.) | Long snapper: Bill Taylor (So.) | Holder: Sage Ledbetter (Sr.) | Kick returner: Noah Igbinoghene (Jr.), JaTarvious Whitlow (So.) | Punt returner: Javaris Davis (Sr.), Eli Stove (Jr.), Christian Tutt (So.)
WHAT WE KNOW
What we know is that, after having to replace both its starting place-kicker and punter after the 2017 season, Auburn enters the 2018 season with the same two starters at those spots. And that’s a good thing.
Siposs, the Australian import, actually did not open last year at the top of the depth chart at punter, but he ascended there by Week 2 and put together a stellar first season playing American football. He averaged 44.2 yards per attempt (18th nationally), landed 17 inside the 20 and boomed 10 over 50 yards.
"It's been incredible, honestly. I didn't expect it to be this crazy, but I've thoroughly enjoyed it so far,” Siposs said last season of his experience playing at Auburn. “Coming to a place like this has probably made it 10 times better, as well getting to play in the SEC against quality opposition always makes it worthwhile."
Carlson became the guy at place-kicker as soon as his record-setting older brother, current Oakland Raider Daniel Carlson, played out his eligibility during the 2017 season. And while the overall numbers from his first campaign show some struggle (he made 15 of 25 attempts) seven of his misses came on kicks from beyond 50 yards, and mostly during the early part of the season. Inside 50 yards, the redshirt freshman made 13 of 16 attempts.
It would be reasonable to expect both to improve in their second year as the starter at their respective positions.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
What we don’t know is which player will take over for graduated wide receiver Ryan Davis as the team’s punt returner.
Kick returner, we know. Igbinoghene, who head coach Gus Malzahn has repeatedly referred to as one of the best in the SEC in that role, will try to build on a sophomore campaign during which he averaged 28.3 yards per return (which would have ranked seventh nationally if he had enough attempts to qualify) and scored a touchdown. Whitlow averaged 26.7 yards on three attempts.
On punts, though, Davis accounted for 22 of Auburn’s 28 returns that weren’t off blocked kicks, averaging 9.8 yards per attempt (which ranked 24th nationally).
Tutt finished second behind the senior in attempts, returning five punts for an average of 13 yards each, but he wasn’t the only player Auburn tried this spring — Davis, one of the fastest sprinters on the team; and Stove, who missed much of last season after tearing his ACL, also received a look, but neither has returned a punt in their college careers.
It’s possible that one of the team’s incoming freshmen, perhaps wide receiver Ja’Varrius Johnson, could get an opportunity to show what he can do during preseason camp, but Malzahn will surely value trust and ball security above all else when he and the coaching staff decide who will return punts in 2019.
THEY SAID IT
“Our coaches are really big on special teams and they just go through every little detail, and technique-wise it’s unbelievable. It showed it helped last year. We’re definitely going to progress this spring and have a better season this year on special teams.” — Defensive back Devan Barrett
SEC media days begin Monday.