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Continuity key for special teams this spring


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Continuity key for Auburn’s special teams this spring

By Tom Green | tgreen@al.com
4-5 minutes

Anders Carlson

Auburn kicker Anders Carlson (26) kicks a field goal against Penn State during the first half of an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Sept.18, 2021. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)AP

We’re taking a look at each position group as Auburn prepares to open spring practice on March 14. The last of an 11-part series looks at the specialists.

The Carlson kicking dynasty will reign on the Plains for one more season, as Auburn will maintain some continuity on special teams heading into Year 2 of the Bryan Harsin era.

The Tigers got some promising news after the season, when kicker Anders Carlson announced a return for a sixth season. It will be the ninth consecutive season that a Carlson brother has kicked for Auburn. The Tigers will also return starters at punter, long snapper and their primary kick returners in 2022, which is good news for a unit that will be overseen by a new special teams coordinator. Roc Bellantoni, who spent last season as a defensive analyst for Auburn, was promoted to outside linebackers coach/special teams coordinator last month, taking over for Bert Watts, who left for an assistant coaching job with the NFL’s Denver Broncos.

Read more Auburn football: Who will replace Roger McCreary as Auburn’s top cornerback?

Small in numbers, Auburn’s edge defenders still in good spot this spring

Thin group at receiver must prove itself for Auburn this spring

Here’s what Bellantoni will have to work with in his first spring on the job:

Projected depth chart:


Anders Carlson, super senior

Ben Patton, redshirt junior


Oscar Chapman, junior

Long snapper

Jacob Quattlebaum, senior

Reed Hughes, redshirt sophomore

Kick returner

Nehemiah Pritchett, senior

Jarquez Hunter, sophomore

Punt returner

Donovan Kaufman, sophomore

Jarquez Hunter, sophomore

Departed: Demetris Robertson, graduated; Shaun Shivers, graduated.

Due to arrive in the fall: Alex McPherson, three-star kicker.

Outlook: The return of Anders Carlson looms large for Auburn, though it’s unlikely he’ll do much, if anything in the spring as he continues his recovery from a torn ACL sustained in November. With freshman Alex McPherson not set to arrive until the summer, that could put Ben Patton back in line to handle primary kicking duties this spring. Patton stepped in when Carlson went down late last season, making five of his six field goal attempts and all six of his extra-point tries over four games.

The Tigers also return punter Oscar Chapman for his third season on the job. He averaged 44.12 yards on 57 punts last season, finishing 32nd nationally in average distance. It’ll also help for Chapman, as well as the place kickers, that Auburn returns starting long snapper Jacob Quattlebaum, with both Reed Hughes and Kyle Vaccarella behind him.

In the return game, Auburn brings back its top-two kick returners from a year ago in cornerback Nehemiah Pritchett and running back Jarquez Hunter. Pritchett averaged 29.5 yards on 10 returns last season, while Hunter was at 19.5 yards on 10 returns.

Don’t be surprised if Donovan Kaufman gets some reps on kick return while also vying for the primary punt return spot. That position could be up for grabs after wide receiver Demetris Robertson handled the majority of opportunities last season. Robertson is gone, exhausting his final year of eligibility, while the Tigers’ second-leading punt returner, Ja’Varrius Johnson entered the transfer portal after the season. Johnson is still enrolled at Auburn this spring, and signs are pointing toward a return for him — though it is not clear at the moment if he will be involved in spring practices. If he does participate, he will definitely be a candidate for the punt return job.

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desperately need a productive punt returner.

also, with kickers and ACL, would anders recovery and "back to usual form" take longer?  i hear the kid from ft payne is awesome but JHS is a big stage.

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Carlson and the return game is what made last year so frustrating. Coverage teams seemed pretty solid, but we couldn't go one return without a block in the back or some sort of penalty, and Carlson was in a funk.

Bert Watts changed stuff up all year too. Brandon Frazier got blown up off the edge on a blocked field goal at LSU, and got replaced by Deal the next week. Had dudes running with their hands up at one point on returns to not get flagged. Harsin said at one point he was going to tell them to fair catch every time because he was so pissed. Hopefully Bellatoni's experience helps because that was unacceptable   

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