Note - Auburn started preparing for the Birmingham Bowl this week, but with the regular season in the books it’s not too early to take a position-by-position look at how the Tigers performed in 2015 and what the future holds.
Grading Out: Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson beat himself up over his four missed field goals this season, but without the 22 he made the Tigers might not be preparing for a bowl game.
Carlson was one of the few consistent weapons for a team that lacked the kind of offensive punch it had in previous seasons.
His effectiveness on kickoffs with a 71 percent touchback percentage was also important for Auburn as the defense needed time to gel under defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
The positive contributions from Auburn’s special teams unit didn’t stop there.
Junior college transfer Kevin Phillips had a strong year, it ranked fourth in the country (out of 127 teams) with an average of 27.97 per kick return and the Tigers' coverage units were nearly perfect.
One notable breakdown was Georgia’s Isaiah McKenzie returning a punt 53 yards for a touchdown.
Curtain Call: Blake Countess and Ricardo Louis were strong options in the kick return game.
Countess opened the game against San Jose State with a 61-yard return that ended up being Auburn’s longest return of the regular season.
Louis only returned one kick in 2015, but his experience as a junior in the return game made him a reliable backup option behind the Tigers’ younger returners.
Stockwatch: Auburn has plenty of athletes on the roster that would love to get into the return game mix for 2016.
There was a healthy competition for the starting punt returner spot during fall camp that included players who went on to redshirt Darius Slayton and Javaris Davis along with speedy wide receivers Jason Smith and Ryan Davis.
While Marcus Davis will be back next season, he needs to have a strong spring to fend off his teammates.
Auburn will also have options in the kick return game, but Kerryon Johnson’s success in 2015 should keep him in the rotation.
Johnson held on to the ball while averaging 27.6 yards on 14 returns. The true freshman didn’t break a touchdown run, but showed the speed and athleticism of a top-flight returner.
Class of 2016 Commits: N/A
Outlook: Auburn brings back its key specialists for 2016. Daniel Carlson showed the positive impact a full year of experience can have on a player with the leap he made from his freshman to sophomore seasons. The Tigers should have one of the best overall special team’s units in the SEC next season.