By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn says Daniel Carlson's contributions to his football team last season were something to behold, whether it was accuracy from on his 50-yard-plus field goals, his consistency from anywhere on the field, his kickoffs that were routinely pounded deep into the end zone.
''What he did for us was unbelievable,'' Malzahn said.
Carlson, a finalist for the Lou Groza Award as the top place-kicker in the nation last season, returns to the watch list for the national award this season with the promise of more of the same.
He warmed up for the season with five field goals in the spring A-Day Game, including two of more than 50 yards. That was old hat. He hit four of his five attempts from 50-plus yards last season.
Carlson, returning punter Kevin Phillips and punt returner Marcus Davis figure to be in the spotlight again for Auburn's special teams in 2016 when the Tigers kick off the season against Clemson at 8 p.m. Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"I feel very good about our special teams with our depth coming back,'' Malzahn said.
And why not? Malzahn calls Carlson ''one of the best kickers in all of college football.''
''He's not just a weapon, field goals and extra points, but he's a weapon on kickoffs.''
Carlson hit 16 consecutive field goals last season, and finished hitting 23 of his 27 attempts, including eight of 10 tries from 40 yards out.
Off the field, Carlson is on the watch list for the Wuerffel Trophy, an award given for community service. He is also being considered for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, an award for those who have ''made a commitment to service and enriching the lives of others.''
He was named preseason first team All-SEC at SEC Media Days in July.
A look the offense
A look at the defense
Team first? Auburn's offense can point to Kodi Burns as Exhibit A. Here's the story: https://t.co/sxqZGAztB0 pic.twitter.com/WGfc8w58TA
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— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) September 2, 2016
''Having Daniel back is really big,'' said special teams coach Scott Fountain, "but the good thing for Daniel and us is having back a really good long snapper in Ike Powell and having the holder back in Tyler Stovall. Those are three high-quality guys for us. There is some comfort knowing guys are back.''
Phillips averaged 41 yards per punt. But that doesn't tell all of his story. Seventeen of his punts pinned opponents inside their own 20, 10 punts were more than 50 yards and, perhaps most importantly, only seven of his 55 punts were returned.
''I've always been a guy that wanted the hang time to match the distance rather than driving the ball,'' Fountain said. ''Sometimes when you just drive the ball you can out-punt your coverage, and you've got real problems there.''
Davis averaged 11.9 yards on 15 returns last season. He returns to a competition that includes Roberts and Ryan Davis.
Kerryon Johnson and Rudy Ford, last year's kickoff returners, are back.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine