Auburn takes pride in its special teams play. Last year one of the major highlights was watching Craig Sanders or Demetruce McNeal blasting opposing returners on kickoffs. The Tigers will look for new players and veterans to form their “special forces” units this season.
The Tigers coaching staff has put such an emphasis on special teams that players now compete for a role on the kickoff or punt coverage teams instead of the typical demotion to a coverage unit. The Tigers take pride in their work, and special teams coverage can be a major player in a football game.
Last season numerous players contributed often and made an identity for themselves with their hits. Others went silently unnoticed just going about coverage consistently and methodically. One of those silent specialists was star receiver Emory Blake. Blake was one of the most consistent tacklers for the kickoff and punt coverage teams a year ago.
No one knows who will be the star this season, but every player on the roster is gunning for a spot on the coveted “special forces.” Here are eight Tigers who are likely to be lightning bolts on the field and bring the pain train to returners this season.
Florence is a true freshman safety out of Valley, Alabama. Florence was the No. 3 safety in the country as a recruit last season and looks to utilize those skills immediately for the Tigers this season.
Florence is talented enough that he is likely to see time early in the defensive backfield but is without question going to fill a role on special teams coverage this year. Florence is known for his hard hitting and will likely make highlights this year.
Look for Florence to play with intensity and passion and to win over fans early with his solid strikes. Florence will play early, and his first action will come on special teams.
Fisher is a red-shirt freshman walk-on for the Tigers. Fisher is the son of former NFL coach Jeff Fisher. What Fisher brings to the Tigers is football pedigree and amazing awareness. Fisher is a player who works hard and will always be in the right position on the football field.
Fisher is another young player who will likely see time in a reserve role in the defensive backfield, but his bread and butter will be special teams. Look for Fisher to be a force on kickoffs and in punt coverage.
Special teams success requires lane discipline, awareness and focus—three traits that come naturally to Fisher.
Garrett is another true freshman who makes the list. Garrett is a linebacker who has turned some heads this fall. Garrett is another hard hitter who will bring reckless abandon to strikes this season on special teams.
Garrett is a speedy linebacker who has worked hard this fall camp to earn a role on the team somewhere. He will find some time on the field at linebacker at some point, but like most other freshmen, special teams is a great way to break through.
Look for Garrett to be on the field in game one against the Aggies of Utah State.
Means is a rising junior who recently joined the scholarship ranks. Means walked on to the Tigers team three years ago as a wide receiver. Means learned early that his greatest impact as a walk-on was likely going to come on special teams.
The last three seasons fans have watched No. 16 come unto his own as he transitioned from offense to defense and made work of opposing kick coverage teams and their returners.
Means will see time often in the defensive backfield, but he will also be a major leader and impact player on special teams coverage this season.
Owens came to Auburn as a defensive end and transitioned to linebacker last season. After spring, it seemed that Owens was finally hitting his groove as a ‘backer and was heading towards consistent reserve playing time.
This fall the Tigers moved Owens back to defensive end. While it reset his position battles, it didn’t change Owens’ tenacious attitude, speed and heavy hitting. Owens is one of the fastest defensive linemen for the Tigers and will undoubtedly use that speed on special teams.
Owens is likely to take some lessons from fellow defensive end and special teams standout Craig Sanders. Owens and Sanders are both speedy and disciplined in their special teams roles. Owens will likely be a fan favorite by season's end.
Sanders was a nightmare for returners last season. Sanders was consistently one of the first players down the field on kickoff coverage last season and contributed often on punt coverage as well.
Sanders will have a more involved role in the defensive end rotation this season, but it is highly unlikely that his special teams contributions will disappear. Sanders knows how to play coverage well and will be looked upon as a leader for the “special forces.”
Sanders will be a force again in 2011 and will be a human highlight reel by season's end.
Mincy found his way to the coaching doghouse a year ago and never resurfaced. This season he has come on strong as a red-shirt freshman and has earned loads of praise from fellow players and coaches for his abilities.
Mincy will likely be the first corner off of the bench when the Tigers move to nickel package, but he will surely be a member of the “special forces” this season. Mincy is a hard hitter with great awareness. Mincy will make a big impact for the Tigers this fall.
Drew Cole came to Auburn four years ago and is one of the few remaining players from the Tuberville era at Auburn. Cole has been a hard worker throughout his career and will look to make a lasting impact in his final season.
Auburn has a wealth of talent at the safety position in 2011. Cole will see some time at his home position, but his role will best be served as a heavy hitter for kick coverage.
Cole has always had a reputation as a hard hitter and given an open lane will look to prove that often this season. Look for No. 20 to fly down the field looking to “…conquer, never to yield.”