Tigers Ready for New Kicking Game Rule

A report on Auburn's kicking game is featured as the Tigers head into the season opener vs. Washington State.

Auburn, Ala.--Tommy Tuberville's Auburn football team looks like it is well equipped to deal with a new kicking game rules change that takes affect this season.

The Tigers are looking to unleash a pair of dangerous kickoff returners in speedy safety Tristan Davis and tailback Brad Lester when Auburn opens the season on Saturday night vs. Washington State.

Lester has averaged 38.7 yards per return the past two seasons and took one the distance last fall vs. Ball State. He has been a big-play threat on kickoff returns going back to his days at Parkview High School in Lilburn, Ga.

Davis, who has excellent straight line speed, averaged 19 yards per rush last season on 11 carries as a backup tailback. He will take over for 2005 receiver Devin Aromashodu, who has moved on to the NFL's Miami Dolphins.

Tuberville, who is on the NCAA committee that makes the rules for football, was supportive of a change in the kickoff game. This season the height of the tee has been lowered from two inches to one inch.

"It was in the discussion this year to try to get more returns," Tuberville says of the tee change. "The kickoff return is an exciting play. It is an exciting play for everybody. We talked to NFL people and they said really the 35-yard (moving from the 40 to the 35) was not the key for them. It was going to the one-inch tee because you have less height on the ball.

"There are going to be more returns," Tuberville predicts. "You are still going to have a certain percentage going in and out of the end zone or have some freak guy who has just got such a strong leg he will kick them all (out of the end zone).

"We were looking to get around 20 percent more returns around the country and I think we will do that," he adds. "That will definitely happen when you kick into the wind."

In addition to having dangerous return men on kickoffs, Tuberville has a senior walk-on kickoff specialist who has the leg to consistently put the ball into the end zone. Matt Clark has the team's strongest leg and he will be counted on to show his talent this fall.

In addition to Clark, the Tigers return All-SEC senior punter Kody Bliss, who has the third best average in school history at 43.3 yards per punt.

Matt Clark took over the kickoff assignment last year and was a big plus for the Tigers.

Another senior who has been a three-year starter like Bliss is field goal specialist John Vaughn. The fourth-leading scorer in AU history, he is 30-45 for his collegiate career on field goals and 128-129 on PAT kicks.

After making 12-15 as a sophomore, Vaughn slumped to 12-20 last season and is hoping to bounce back with a strong senior season. Based on his work in preseason, special teams coach Eddie Gran says he is expecting Vaughn to have his best year.

Last season Vaughn had a nightmare game at LSU, but later in the season kicked the game-winner at Georgia.

Tuberville says he feels the kicking game should be in solid shape on opening night. "We have worked a lot on it," he points out. "I like our punter, our kicker and our kickoff guy. We have fast kickoff returners. Our punt returner is fast. We have worked hard on blocks and punt returns. We have got everything in we will have at the end of the year. Of course, when we get into a game, we won't call a whole lot of it."

Elusive Robert Dunn, who returned four punts for 26 yards last fall as a true freshman, is scheduled to take over that assignment on a full-time basis this fall. Tre Smith, Courtney Taylor and Lee Guess are available as backups if needed.

AU's kick holder, Matthew Motley, is a proven performer and the same is true of deep snapper Pete Compton, who will handle punts. He has done a solid job on that assignment the past two years and Robert Shiver has been steady in practice taking over the field goal snapping duties from Chas Crofoot.

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