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Auburn football: Tigers still trying to sort things out at punt, kick returner

AUBURN, Ala. — Things are trending the way Marcus Davis would like when it comes to Auburn's punt return competition. Earlier this spring, the rising junior receiver said taking the baton from Quan Bray and becoming the Tigers' punt returner was "his biggest goal" heading into the 2015 campaign.

"I feel like I’m a pretty good receiver," he said. "I’m just really focused on winning that (punt return) job and taking over that job."

And at least for the moment, Davis is sitting pretty. According to special teams coach Scott Fountain, Davis has a slight lead over rising sophomore defensive back Stephen Roberts in the punt return competition. Quarterback-turned-receiver Jason Smith is also fighting for the job.

When asked what specifically the coaches critique in returning punts, Davis said it was fairly simple.

"Just the basics. Just looking the ball in because everybody is really good athletes," he said. "Coach (Tim) Horton just focuses on the basics and making sure we have our fundamentals down."

Horton, who assists Fountain with the returners, said all three candidates "have done some good things," though Davis and Roberts have a slight edge on the junior college transfer.

"But we're going to continue to work Jason because he's a dynamic player," Horton said. "Stephen Roberts had a nice return on Saturday (during the scrimmage). Marcus has been real consistent with the way he's caught the ball as a punt returner. So those are the three that we've been working and I think all three are very capable."

Horton said the Tigers haven't worked as much on kickoff return just yet. Best he could recall, they might have focused on it during parts of two different practices earlier this spring. But he said three players have already emerged from the pack: running back Roc Thomas, receiver Ricardo Louis and defensive back Johnathan "Rudy" Ford.

"Those are the three that kind of have caught our attention at least so far in the first two days that we've done kickoff return," he said.

The battles at punt and kick return will likely last into fall camp, however. Horton said the Tigers' 2015 signees will have a chance to win the jobs when they arrive on campus.

"I think Kerryon Johnson is a young man that's done some good things as a kickoff returner in the past," said Horton, referring to the reigning Alabama Mr. Football Award winner, "but we'll take a look at several different guys there."