AU Special Teams Showing Improvement

Coach Jay Boulware talks about the positives on special teams coming out of the Tennessee game and the ongoing work in the punt return game.

Auburn, Ala.--Special teams has been a sore spot at times for the Auburn Tigers this season as struggles in the punting department and covering kickoffs were apparent early in the season because of depth problems. The last two weeks though have seen improvements in all areas for the Tigers, but Coach Jay Boulware said he's still looking for a lot more out of his guys in all areas.

That begins in the punt return game where Anthony Gulley and Philip Pierre-Louis are still battling to see who will take over the job full-time. Gulley was the guy for the Tigers until he got knocked out of the game against the Vols last week. Pierre-Louis came in and did a solid job for the Tigers with no bobbles and returning two kicks for nine yards, but Boulware said that's not enough to give him the job just yet.

"He caught three of them that he's supposed to catch and one of the he caught he should have ran for 15 yards or so," Boulware said. "We're still searching. We haven't found the answer there. I wouldn't dub him the king because he did what he's supposed to do. If you stick a punt returner back there he's supposed to catch it. We've gotten a little bit spoiled back there because we've dropped a few. We want more than that. We want somebody back there to catch it and advance the football."

A true freshman, Gulley is still definitely in the mix. He leads the team with a 4.8 yard average on five returns this season, but has also put a couple on the ground in the process. Boulware said that's part of being a freshman, but Gulley has the confidence of the coaching staff to get the job done.

"The kid made a mistake, but he's a true freshman," Boulware said. "We're going to give him another opportunity. He's got some really good ball skills. He was an excellent baseball player in high school and that makes it easy for guys to judge balls in the air. Coach (Trooper) Taylor coaches those guys and he believes in him wholeheartedly."

One of the big positives coming out of the Tennessee game was the job that Auburn did returning kickoffs. The Tigers returned four kicks for 140 yards with Ben Tate taking one back 35 yards and freshman Onterio McCalebb returning two for 91 yards, including the 52-yarder that set up the eventual game-clinching field goal. Boulware said he's been pleased with the progression of that unit the last few games.

"Those guys are getting better," Boulware said. "We've had the returners, it's the guys up front that are doing a good job. One week it was the front guys and one week the returners didn't have confidence in the front guys and weren't running where they were supposed to. The game before the Tennessee game you could start to see the light turn on a little bit understanding what the coaches were asking them to do."

The part of the game that continues to be rock solid is the kicking of junior Wes Byrum. Including the last minute field goal, Byrum was 4-5 against the Vols with his first miss of the season coming in the game. Currently he's 10-11 on the year and a perfect 5-5 inside 40-yards. Boulware said he's proud of the way Byrum has performed and it has been big for the team to have him come out firing in 2009.

"We preach E4 in our room," Boulware said. "We talk about energy, energize, edge and execute. When Wes knocks a kick through he energizes our football team. I don't care what point of the game it is, every time he knocks a kick through it energizes the team because it's points on the board…they are all big kicks. Every time we take a kick in practice they are big kicks. That's what I've been telling him, there are no kicks that aren't as important as the next one."

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