HOOVER, Ala. (WIAT) — The Auburn Tigers are returning several players that were key to the team’s success last season, and those leaders gave an insight into how the team is improving at this year’s SEC Media Days.
Kicker Daniel Carlson gave insight into his personal success in 2016 after Head Coach Gus Malzahn’s presser. Though his impressive range has made a name for the young kicker, he prides his focus and consistency above all else.
“Usually I want to try and stay around 75 percent or above, but that’s hard to do because you might only get two kicks,” Carlson said. “Those 50-yarders are always fun, but it’s [the kicks] inside the 50 that are the really important ones, because that’s where you’re usually kicking from, and that’s where the team needs you to make sure you’re getting those points.”
Carlson has locked down the kicker position, though he remains in a battle with Ian Shannon over the punter position, one that Malzahn still defines as a “question mark.”
Auburn at SEC Media Days
A sure thing on the Auburn team is Braden Smith, last year’s starting right guard that made his way to his second preseason Outland Trophy watch list. This trophy goes to the best offensive lineman in the country, and last year found its way to the mantle of Crimson Tide standout Cam Robinson.
Smith has taken on a leadership role on the team and has a lot to say about the young crop of linemen coming to the Plains.
“The way they’ve approached, I’ve been really impressed with all of them. They’ve come in and taken it upon themselves to work and learn our offense,” Smith said. “I’ve never had any problem with them coming in and getting extra work, I’ve never really had to get after them. They’ve been coming in very mature, and they’re ready to work and earn a spot.”
Smith told the media that he was mostly working with linemen on the other side of the ball this early in the season, and was equally as impressed with the effort those players were showing in camp.
“They can be as good as they want to be. They’ve got the talent that’s for sure,” Smith said. “Especially watching last year, we’ve got a lot of those guys back, it’s just ‘how much do they want it?’ And I think it’ll really show this year, they’ll have another great year like they did last year.”
Smith is not the only player learning more about his position by learning more about those around him.
Defensive back Tray Matthews credits DB Coach Wesley “Crime Dog” McGriff for improving his game by making him get inside of every player in his unit’s head.
“Coach Crime Dog was my coach last year so he instilled that. ‘Tray you’re not only a safety, you’re a cornerback, you’re a nickel, you’re a linebacker, you play everything’.” Matthews said. “He opened my eyes up, and that kind of led to my success last year.”
Matthews is carrying that philosophy towards improvement, as he stated while identifying things he’s working on this offseason.
“Covering skills, getting a better grasp on the defense. Not only just my position, but I’m learning what the linebackers are doing, the front is doing, where they’re sliding, where the protection is coming from,” Matthews said. “Looking at the big picture, not just my specific position has helped me a lot.”