For the last several weeks, SEC Country has taken Auburn football fans to Summer School. Each session focused on one position on Auburn’s 2018 roster, finding answers from spring practice and looking ahead to what might be the biggest questions for the fall.
We finish the series with a quick look at Auburn’s return game.
- KICK RETURNER
- Noah Igbinoghene (sophomore)
- Javaris Davis (junior)
- Kam Martin (junior)
- Anthony Schwartz and Shaun Shivers (freshmen — summer arrivals)
- PUNT RETURNER
- Ryan Davis (senior)
- Christian Tutt (freshman)
- Matthew Hill (freshman — summer arrival)
Answers from spring practice
Will Auburn change its primary kick returner in 2018?
In all the buzz about Noah Igbinoghene’s surprising and highly successful move from wide receiver to cornerback during fall camp, Gus Malzahn said the sophomore would remain the Tigers’ top kick returner in 2018. Igbinoghene averaged 23.79 yards per return in 2017 and had a couple of long ones against Ole Miss and Central Florida.
The track star isn’t the fastest player on the roster — that title goes to one of his newest teammates, Anthony Schwartz — but he showed the building blocks of a successful kick returner last season. If Igbinoghene can get better blocking in front of him through the Tigers’ special teams overhaul, he has the potential to have a big season in this department.
Does a freshman have a legitimate shot of taking a return man job?
Auburn’s 2018 signing class could’ve doubled as a top-notch track and field team. Schwartz will be the fastest player in college football as soon as he takes the field for the first time. Shaun Shivers is not too far behind him in terms of pure speed. Matthew Hill had a highlight-reel punt return in the Under Armour All America Game. Christian Tutt has already gotten reps at punt returner after enrolling early.
The Tigers haven’t had an overwhelming amount of success in the return game in the last few seasons, so it makes sense for these young playmakers to get a shot. Coaches have already talked about trying the freshmen out as returners, so expect to hear about these names a good bit in August.
Numbers to know
3: Auburn has not had a kick or punt return for a touchdown in its last three seasons. The last time the Tigers took a kickoff or a punt to the house was when Quan Bray had a punt return score against Louisiana Tech on Sept. 27, 2014.
Questions for fall
Will Ryan Davis remain starting punt returner?
With Stephen Roberts now in the NFL, senior wide receiver Ryan Davis is the favorite to start at punt returner in 2018. Davis had two punt returns for 42 yards last season and is one of the shiftiest Auburn players in recent memory.
However, Davis is coming off a season in which he caught more passes than any other player in school history. The 5-foot-8 Davis is massive for Auburn’s passing game. Will Auburn risk Davis to more wear and tear — or worse — by making him the punt returner? The Tigers definitely have young players they can use back there in his spot.
Who will Auburn line up next to Noah Igbinoghene on kickoffs?
Auburn will put its faith in Igbinoghene at kick returner again this season, but he won’t be alone. Last season, Javaris Davis and Kam Martin each got a single kick return next to Igbinoghene in 2018. Both of them have incredible speed and should be viewed as the favorites to be the second kick returner this fall.
But the explosive potential of Schwartz or Shivers might be too much for Auburn to leave on the sideline in special teams situations. Shivers’ highlight tape screams potential kick returner, and Malzahn has never had someone with Schwartz’s straight-line speed. Keep your eyes on this under-the-radar battle in fall camp.