Tigers Continue to Emphasize Special Teams

Auburn, Ala.--As Auburn prepares for its SEC football opener on Saturday evening at Mississippi State, assistant coach Eddie Gran is looking for more of the same and perhaps some improvement from Auburn's special teams play.

Mississippi State features an outstanding punt and kickoff returner in Derek Pegues. Last year the Tigers struggled early in the season covering kickoffs and that has been a point of emphasis for the team this year.

"We are doing good, not great yet," Gran says. "I think we have been solid on kickoff coverage. That is something we have worked very hard at and those kids have taken pride in making sure our defense doesn't have to start at the 40-yard line. That is tough field position."

The Tigers are averaging 46.6 net yards per kickoff return, which is third among the 12 SEC teams so far this season. Kentucky leads that statistic at 52.3 yards.

Clinton Durst

With newcomer Clinton Durst handling the punting duties, the Tigers are first in the league with a 40.7 net punt average, which is ninth nationally.

"I have been happy with the punter and his hang time," Gran says. "Everybody has protected and covered."

The Tigers are also first in the league in punt returns with Robert Dunn averaging 24.4 yards on seven returns with one going for a TD. Another return for a TD was called back by a penalty well behind the play.

Gran notes that he is pleased with how his senior punt returner is performing. "I would like to say it is coaching, but Robert Dunn is making a lot of guys miss and we are getting great effort from the guys on that punt return team," Gran says.

The Auburn coach says he wants to see the kickoff return team become more productive. The Tigers are averaging just 18.7 yards per return, which is ninth in the league, well off Tennessee's league-leading pace of 28.4 yards.

"We have only had a couple of kickoff returns," Gran notes. "We would like to get Tristan (senior Tristan Davis) cranked up. They are excited and working hard for that to happen."

Robert Dunn returns a punt for the Tigers.

Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom said on Wednesday that his team will kick the ball away from Robert Dunn this week. "I don't know about all of that," Gran says. "If they want to kick it out of bounds, that's great. That punter better be very, very good. He better be a great angle punter.

"We are going to go do our thing and do it how we know to do it best," Gran adds. "Southern Miss tried to do it last week and they lost probably 60 yards of field position. If that is what Robert Dunn is doing, that is outstanding."

Kickoff time for Auburn's game at Mississippi State is shortly after 6 p.m. from Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville.


2008 Inside the Auburn Tigers Football Guide

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