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Texas ST spring preview: Jeff Banks has Horns in a good spot

The Longhorns produced a top-15 special teams unit in 2022 despite concerns entering the season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 ULM at Texas Photo by Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Despite replacing Cameron Dicker in all three kicking phases, the Texas Longhorns finished the 2022 season No. 11 nationally in FEI’s special teams rankings, including No. 7 in punt return efficiency and No. 12 in kickoff efficiency.

Under special teams coordinator Jeff Banks, the Longhorns were able to answer some key questions, finding a placekicker in Bert Auburn, getting strong contributions from Will Stone on kickoffs, and landing a stopgap measure at punter with the addition of Texas Wesleyan transfer Daniel Trejo during preseason camp.

Auburn’s emergence was one of the most important developments for the Longhorns in 2022 as the walk on earned the starting role in preseason camp and never relinquished it, finishing with the fourth-most accurate season in school history, hitting 21-of-26 field-goal attempts. Faced with the high standard of replacing Dicker, Auburn showed off his own poise under pressure, making a 49-yard field goal against Alabama to give Texas the lead with 1:29 remaining and then hitting from 44 yards in Lubbock to send the game against Texas Tech into overtime.

It’s not clear whether Auburn has range past 50 yards — he didn’t attempt a field goal of that length last season — and he did have three misses from less than 39 yards, but some of those issues early in the season were on the snap or the hold.

Banks moved Lance St. Louis into the deep snapper role over Zach Edwards early in the season and the freshman helped stabilize the position, another question mark following the departure of longtime deep snapper Justin Mader.

On kickoffs, Stone did kick three balls out of bounds while notching a touchback rate of 30.2 percent. The location and hangtime from Stone helped the kickoff coverage unit hold opponents to only 17.2 yards per return, No. 27 nationally.

During the offseason, Banks found the replacement for Trejo in Stanford transfer Ryan Sanborn, a solid veteran, but will have to get through the spring without any punters listed on the roster with Sanborn arriving during the summer.

On punt returns, Banks moved away from veteran cornerback D’Shawn Jamison in the return game and slotted wide receiver Xavier Worthy on punt returns and running back Keilan Robinson on kickoff returns, finishing No. 58 in kickoff return efficiency. Robinson did have a 52-yard return against TCU, the longest of his career, but Texas could use more explosiveness out of the return game in 2023 given the talent available.

Robinson returns as a core special teams contributor, including as the team’s most dangerous punt blocker, but Banks will have to replace a number of other players, including running back Roschon Johnson and linebacker DeMarvion Overshown, two of the most impactful players on special teams for the Longhorns.

Texas will enter the 2023 season with more stability on special teams and the chance to improve overall if Banks can find replacements for core contributors like Johnson and Overshown.