Auburn football: Looking at the Tigers' special teams for 2014

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 23, 2014 

Auburn University

With Chris Davis gone, Auburn will have to find a way to replace its primary punt returner from last season.

TODD VAN EMST

Editor's note:The 2013 season is in the books. Any underclassmen eligible for the NFL draft have decided whether to return to school or pursue a pro career. And national signing day has passed. With that in mind, Auburn beat writer Ryan Black breaks down the team's 2014 roster, going position-by-position and giving his take on each spot's future. The series concludes with the Tigers' special teams.

Who's Leaving: Chris Davis: 17 punt returns, 318 yards (18.7 yards per return), touchdown

Cody Parkey: Started all 14 games; 15-for-21 (71.4 percent) on field goals, with long of 52; 66-for-67 (98.5 percent) on point-after attempts; 98 kickoffs (64.3 yards per attempt), 69 touchbacks

Steven Clark: Started all 14 games; 56 punts (42.6 yards per attempt), four touchdowns, 26 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line

Who's Coming In: None

Outlook: Auburn is faced with an unenviable task this spring: Trying to replace both of its senior specialists from last season.

Parkey and Clark were as solid a duo as one could find anywhere in the country. Half of Parkey's misses last season were understandable, as they came from 50 yards or longer. In addition, no player had more touchbacks than the Florida native last year. And there was perhaps no punter more clutch than Clark — a three-time Ray Guy Award semifinalist — in 2013; whenever the Tigers needed to pin their opponent deep in their own territory, Clark seemed to come through almost every time.

The only downside to pair's consistency is that they blocked their younger counterparts from getting any playing time. Not a single player vying to replace either Parkey or Clark has ever kicked in a live game. The candidates to succeed Parkey are redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson and juniors Alex Kviklys and Duncan McKinney. At punter, redshirt freshman Jimmy Hutchinson will compete against sophomore Tyler Stovall.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, Carlson and Hutchinson will win the jobs; special teams coordinator Scott Fountain has said both will begin spring practice at the top of their respective depth charts.

Clark and Parkey aren't the only seniors Auburn lost from its special teams, though.

Davis ranked third in Division I last year in punt return average. In games he missed last season due to injury, Quan Bray replaced the Iron Bowl hero. Bray struggled mightily, however, tallying just 61 yards on 12 returns. Whether he'll start the spring as the team's No. 1 punt returner is still up in the air, especially given his responsibilities as starting kick returner.

Still, it's not as if Bray is the only option the Tigers have to field punts. Receivers Marcus Davis and Trovon Reed each had returns during games last season, and fellow receiver Tony Stevens as well as running back/corner Johnathan Ford worked there during fall camp.

As for kick returns, while Bray likely has one of those spots sewn up, don't be surprised if Corey Grant joins him, filling the void left by Tre Mason as the Tigers' other primary kick returner.

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