AUBURN | Stephen Roberts gave a glimpse of his potential at the end of last season and that’s got Auburn special teams coach Tim Horton excited about the potential of his punt return team this fall.
Roberts returned six punts for 100 yards including a 58-yard return at Alabama, which was Auburn’s fifth-longest play of the season.
“Once we got Stephen Roberts in there, he really did a nice job,” Horton said. “I think he's got a job to catch the ball, get north with it, take care of the ball, make somebody miss. The biggest play we had against Alabama was Stephen Roberts' return of the punt. Hopefully he can continue to do that.”
Ryan Davis and Griffin King are also getting practice reps at punt return and Horton is pleased with the entire group.
“We feel very confident in all three of them. They'll be as good as we've had,” Horton said.
Auburn’s punt return team improved from seventh to fifth in the SEC from 2015 to 16. It was the opposite with the kick return team, which ranked second in the conference in 2015 but was just 12th last season averaging 19.0 yards per return.
Horton has a pair of freshmen in mind to give the unit a shot in the arm.
“The two guys we really want to take a look at this week -- this is the week that we've installed kickoff return and on Saturday we'll do it live for the first time -- there's still a lot of questions to be answered but Noah (Igbinoghene) and Devan Barrett are the two freshmen we want to take a good look at,” he said. “Kerryon Johnson has done it before. Javaris Davis is someone that has a really good skillset that we'd like to get back there because he's electric and fast and can make things happen.
“Right now, those are probably the top four guys we're looking at but there's still others in the mix. They'll get some opportunities on Saturday and we'll see what they do.”
One player unlikely to return kickoffs this season is John Franklin III. But the senior wide receiver, who is one of the team’s fastest players, could help out on special teams in other ways.
“We do like John and he's done a really nice job on our special teams but probably not as a returner,” Horton said. “He will be a two, three, hopefully even four-unit special teams guy. Right now we've got some other guys in front of him in terms of the actual guy running the ball.”
Roberts is also capable of being a four-unit player on special teams but Horton will limit that to a maximum of two. The four units Horton is referring to are punt and punt return, and kickoff and kickoff return. There’s also field goal, field goal block and extra point units, plus specialty units for onside kicks.
“We’ll probably limit (Roberts) to two,” Horton said. “There’s certain players that are like that; Carlton Davis is a player like that. Carlton could be on every special team, but hey, he’ll probably just be a two-unit guy.”