AUBURN, Ala. — On paper, Auburn football should have its most balanced roster under Gus Malzahn in 2017. But each positive aspect of the Tigers roster has a potentially troublesome flip side. Here’s a preview of Auburn’s upcoming season using each position’s biggest reason for confidence and its biggest reason for caution.
Through the ups and downs of the last decade of Auburn football, special teams play has been consistently strong. That continued in 2016, when Daniel Carlson went on another run toward college football’s most prestigious kicking award and Kevin Phillips helped the Tigers finish near the top nationally in several opposing punt return categories.
In 2017, Auburn has to go through some significant changes on the special teams front. The first came before spring camp, when longtime staffer and special teams coordinator Scott Fountain was removed. Gus Malzahn gave running backs coach Tim Horton that role as new tight ends coach Larry Porter took on recruiting coordinator duties.
Horton inherited the nation’s best field goal unit. All three starters on the field goal and extra point teams — all seniors — are back for the 2017 campaign.
But Horton has to find an answer at the other specialist position on the roster, as the punt game was a complete mystery by the end of spring practice. If the Tigers are going to stay on excellent two-way form in special teams, someone has to step up in a big way this fall.
2017 Auburn football specialists
- Daniel Carlson (Senior; 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds)
- Anders Carlson (True freshman; 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds)
- Sage Ledbetter (Redshirt freshman; 6-foot and 181 pounds)*
- Ian Shannon (Sophomore; 6-foot-3 and 222 pounds)
- Aidan Marshall (True freshman; 5-foot-11 and 163 pounds)*
- Tyler Stovall (Senior; 6-foot and 213 pounds)
- LONG SNAPPERS
- Ike Powell (Senior; 6-foot-3 and 267 pounds)
- Clarke Smith (Redshirt freshman; 6-foot-3 and 226 pounds)*
- Bill Taylor (True freshman; 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds)*
CONFIDENCE: CFB’s best kicker is back — and he’s not alone
Daniel Carlson enters the 2017 season as college football’s best kicker. He almost won the Groza Award in each of his last two years, and he’s already set Auburn’s kicking records in just three seasons of work.
Carlson is undoubtedly one of Auburn’s most valuable players for 2017. His ability to knock down kicks from virtually any spot across midfield — he’s 8-for-12 in his career from 50-plus yards — makes Auburn’s offense even more dangerous. He’s automatic on extra-point attempts and forced more touchbacks than any other Power 5 kicker.
But it takes more than just one powerful leg to create a scoring machine on special teams. Carlson is back for his senior season with holder Tyler Stovall and long snapper Ike Powell. These three seniors already have plenty of experience together, which should make for smooth kicks all season long.
“We’ve really been blessed with our snapper,” Horton said this spring. “Ike Powell is outstanding. When you get to the holding aspect, Tyler Stovall is great. And, of course, no one is better than Daniel Carlson.”
Excellent special teams play can be the difference in tight games, and Auburn should have that key advantage in the kicking game all season long.
CAUTION: Punting duties are still up in the air
The best Auburn football teams of the last decade or so matched excellent place kicking with strong punting. In 2013, Auburn had Cody Parkey and Steven Clark. In the 2010 national championship run, it was Wes Byrum and Ryan Shoemaker. The undefeated 2004 team had John Vaughn and Kody Bliss.
Auburn has arguably its best kicker ever in Daniel Carlson, but it doesn’t have that kind of counterpart at punter. Kevin Phillips’ graduation left a hole at punter that was widely expected to immediately go to Ian Shannon. However, Shannon had a shaky spring, and the Tigers left camp with question marks at the spot.
“The real challenge this spring from a kicking game standpoint is our punter,” Horton said. “Who’s our punter going to be? We’ve put that pressure on Ian Shannon. … The thing with Ian, there’s been days he’s been great, there’s been days he hasn’t been so great. We’re looking to get more consistency out of him.”
If Shannon can’t lock the position down, the Tigers might have to turn to a freshman this fall. Carlson’s younger brother Anders Carlson punted in high school, but Auburn would prefer to redshirt him and let him inherit Daniel’s kicking job in 2018. Walk-on Aidan Marshall could get a shot this fall.
While Daniel Carlson punted some as a freshman in 2014, Auburn doesn’t want to go down that road again. The added workload limited Carlson’s effectiveness as a kicker. Last fall, Phillips did an excellent job of booting punts that were rarely returned. Losing that aspect could be costly.