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Monday, February 24, 2014

Looking Forward: Kicking Teams

Cody Parkey and Ryan White will both be missed in AU's kicking game
 photo by Todd VanEmst

The play of the special teams unit has long been an essential part of any good football team. Most think of these units as either Field Goal team, or Kicking team. Let's breakdown each phase of the Tigers special teams, and see what we have to look forward to in 2014.

Before we get started, I must add here that Auburn will have to replace two very good players from their special team units. Kicker Cody Parkey has been very solid, and sometimes brilliant in his career at Auburn. Ryan Clark has been a Ray Guy finalist, and was a deadly weapon this past season when it came to placing his punts inside the opposing teams 20 yard line. They will both be missed. 

Kickoff teams have one very specific job to do. Get down field quickly and tackle the man with the ball. When Cody Parkey was doing the kicking, there were very few times that anyone was able to return the ball. The one fatal exception happened during the final BCS Championship game when FSU return man Levonte Whitfield burnt the Tigers coverage team for a 101 yard TD on a kickoff. Until that moment, Auburn had not allowed a return for a TD all season. During the season, the Tigers had scored 69 TD's only had 24 Kickoff's returned, and allowed only 550 total yards of returns. 

While not truly a weak part of this team, kick coverage is essential to keeping any scoring momentum Auburn has, and proper kick coverage can help keep the opponent from gaining any momentum of its own in a game. This 2014 Auburn unit looks to improve, and will likely need to, with a first year kicker coming in for the Tigers.

Punt Coverage teams have basically the same job as the Kickoff team. Get off your block, and get down field, either to down the ball or to tackle the man with the ball. This unit had little worry about anyone returning punts in 2013. 

Steven Clark was a dynamic weapon for the Tigers in 2013. He punted the ball only 50 times all season with a 42.5 yard average. Clark would send the ball skyward and the results would be 23 fair catches, 21 times the ball was downed inside the opponents 20 yard line, and all of this with only 4 touch backs. Auburn's opponents this past season only returned a grand total of 5 punts for a measly 7.0 yard average. Amazing!

Replacing Parkey and Clark will be a priority this spring. Who ever the coaches pick, has some big shoes to fill, and will need to step up when their name is called. Special teams at Auburn have long been a source of pride and excellence. that trend will need to continue if the Tigers hope to return to the championship game in the coming season.

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