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May 11, 2012

Spring football recap: Special teams

For much of the past couple of weeks, the blog has been taking a look through Auburn’s roster and trying to give a reasonably-accurate guess at what the depth chart will look like when the Tigers take the field in the fall. At times, the schedule has been derailed by helping out with preps coverage, but the blog has finally come to the end, with the special-teams units.

Full disclaimer: Any depth charts listed below are only my best guess, nothing more.

As always, feel free to disagree with my take. Heading into the summer, everything’s open to discussion.

For a look at the rest of the position groups in the series, take a look at the following links.

 

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PROJECTED DEPTH CHART

  • K: Cody Parkey, 6-0, 194, Jr.
  • P: Steven Clark, 6-5, 235, Jr.
  • LS: Jake Lembke, 6-2, 228, Jr.
  • H: Ryan White, 5-11, 196, Jr.
  • KR: Onterio McCalebb, 5-11, 168, Sr.
  • PR: Quan Bray, 5-10, 184, So.
RESERVES
  • K: Alex Kviklys, 6-2, 180, R-Fr.
  • P: Will Campbell, 6-1, 235, R-Fr.
  • LS: Forrest Hill, 6-1, 242, So.
  • LS: Robert Cramer, 5-11, 228, Jr.
  • LS: Barrett Kernon, 6-4, 232, R-Fr.
  • LS: C.T. Moorman, 6-0, 225, R-Fr.
  • KR: Corey Grant, 5-11, 203, So.
  • PR: Trovon Reed, 6-0, 186, So.

WHAT ANDY WROTE LAST YEAR

“With depth no longer a concern, the Tigers took a major step forward on special teams last year. Their coverage units, flush with players who could focus on one thing and do it well, thrived. Although a bunch of players are gone, there’s still a full freshman class coming in, meaning the special teams ranks will be replenished. McCalebb is as solid as they come at kick return. And Parkey and Clark, both sophomores, bode well for the future of the kicking game. If Auburn can find a punt returner — its Achilles’ heel under Chizik — it can shore up all of its special teams units. For a team that won’t be as talented on offense and defense, getting hidden yards and big plays from the special teams group would be a huge help.”

OVERVIEW

Hidden yards? Try all the field position gained by Steven Clark‘s ability to pin the ball inside the 20 and Cody Parkey‘s bionic leg. Big plays? Tre Mason‘s kickoff return against Utah State and Onterio McCalebb‘s return against Alabama, plus the entire Chick-fil-A Bowl, took care of that. Largely, under special team coordinator Jay Boulware’s direction, Auburn’s special teams was one of the best units in the SEC last season, the only problems coming when the kickoff return game struggled during midseason briefly.

GOOD THINGS

Clark continued to boom the ball during practice, and a whole new set of possible return men in Corey Grant and Robenson Therezie cropped up. Between Lembke and Hill, Auburn appears to have a couple of snappers ready to replace crackerjack snapper Josh Harris, who will be trying to earn a job as the Atlanta Falcons’ long snapper this season. With Parkey injured, walk-on kicker Alex Kviklys took a bunch of kicks during the spring, and he appeared to be solid enough to fill in if something happened.

BAD THINGS

Parkey battled a muscle pull all spring and didn’t have a chance to kick much. Behind Clark, Will Campbell didn’t seem to have the same power on the ball. Other than that, it’s hard to come up with something when almost everybody is returning from last year’s units.

ARRIVING SOON

If anybody’s going to make a huge impact out of this freshman class, the best guess would be cornerback Joshua Holsey, who was used as a deadly receiver and open-field runner at Creekside. With so many experienced options in the return game, Holsey’s best bet to earn playing time as a returner would be to prove he can be as capable as McCalebb, Bray or Reed in the return game, freeing up those players to focus on their roles on offense. Beyond that, Auburn’s experience largely mitigates the chance any freshman makes a huge impact.

POTENTIAL BREAKOUT

Bray flashed his potential with a 62-yard punt return against Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, a play that finally offered Auburn fans a glimpse at the ability that allowed him to take over the job from Reed when he was injured and hold onto it even after Reed came back. A great open-field runner with the ability to make people miss, Bray could have a big year in the return game if he learns to take more chances and get up the field faster.

BATTLE TO WATCH

Unfortunately, with so many questions on offense and defense to consider, Boulware never really had to answer the question of who was going to handle long-snapping duties now that Josh Harris has moved on to bigger things. For what it’s worth, Lembke was the one handling a lot of punt snaps during the brief moments of practice I saw, and Hill handled extra points, although in one practice I believe Lembke handled both duties. Harris has been so good for so long that Auburn fans haven’t even had to give the snap a second thought. Whoever earns the job has to live up to that standard.

THEY SAID IT

“I mean, I’m confident back there. I still make mistakes, bad choices, but that’s why we practice. Me and Quan are just going to continue to keep working and compete for the job.” — Reed, on the battle for the punt returning job.

NUMBERS GAME

6.74 — Yards per punt return by Auburn last season, 81st nationally. It was 6.18 in 2010, 90th nationally. It was 4.46 in 2009, 113th nationally.

THE END OF THE DAY

Aside from that pesky punt return number, Auburn’s special teams should be expected to either match or exceed the standard set by last year’s group. With a full year of competition under their belts, Clark and Parkey should be even better, and the Tigers have a knack for breaking big kick returns even if the return man rotation isn’t always set in stone. The one spot where Auburn needs a lot of improvement is on punt returns, but Bray and Reed have both flashed potential. One of them has to put it all together.

3 Comments

  1. I’m not particularly concerned with Special Teams – thank goodness – so I want to focus on one little thing…

    If what you listed is correct, am I right in seeing that McCalebb is a whole 3 pounds heavier than when he arrived to campus as a FRESHMAN?! What in the world has Yoxall been doing the last four seasons? People keep saying we’re undersized because we’re young, but I’m not sure anyone on this team is capable of putting on weight!

    Comment by Hunter-Gatherer — May 11, 2012 @ 11:45 pm

  2. I wouldn’t read anything into McCalebb’s weight. By all accounts, he’s just the body type who can’t put on any kind of weight at all. By and large, the rest of the team has hit most of their weight and strength goals.

    Comment by JErickson — May 13, 2012 @ 4:38 pm

  3. Being an old timer, I remember quite a few instances of errant long-snaps over the years. Worst wake up call in a game is seeing the oblate spheroid sail over the punter’s head. I agree we Aubies have grown used to ironman Josh’s virtual perfection of these difficult exchanges. Hope Jay can bring the young men up to par in performance and toughness.

    Comment by Antique Aubie — May 15, 2012 @ 7:58 am

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