While special teams have rarely been an area of notable success for Clemson, the Tigers improved their play enough in 2016 to avenge a national championship loss that was fueled by their failings in the game’s third phase. Let’s take a look at the state of Clemson’s special teams and whether they can continue to make positive strides.
Greg Huegel may have regressed slightly a season ago after an outstanding freshman season, but he still provides a steady and solid kicker that many teams would love to have. Although his percentage wasn’t special last year, he made the kicks that mattered - which is about all you can ask of a college kicker. Clemson would like to see Huegel straighten out his penchant for missing chip shots and extra points, but the Tigers are in good shape here overall.
The Tigers still have not been able to find a consistently effective kickoff man since Bradley Pinion’s departure, and that figures to continue this season. Every other team in the country can seemingly create touchbacks at will, but Clemson is left constantly having to cover kicks. They improved significantly in that area last season, but avoiding the risk of big returns would still be a welcome sight. The team didn’t bother listing a starting kickoff man on the summer depth chart, which means we will probably continue to see Greg Huegel just trying his best.
Andy Teasdall departs after an underwhelming couple years as Clemson’s punter, and the Tigers have had an ongoing competition to find his replacement. Will Spiers will get first crack at the job, and we’ll see if he can provide an upgrade over Teasdall. It will be interesting to see what Clemson does stylistically in this area, as they famously chose to rugby punt for the entirety of national championship. That strategy gives them an alternative if they continue to lack for quality kicks.
Artavis Scott was reliable, if largely unspectacular, as a kick returner for the Tigers, and they will have to find a new primary weapon here in 2017. As usual, the coaching staff has plenty of viable options to choose from. They may continue to put CJ Fuller (or a similar player) back there presumably as a lead blocker, although it would be nice to see them opt to go with two explosive return threats. Tavien Feaster, Ray Ray McCloud, and Cornell Powell could all get a chance, among others. You could do a lot worse than a Feaster/Powell combination.
If Ray Ray McCloud could just hold onto a punted football, Clemson would have one of the most dangerous returners in the country. He should start the season as the team’s primary punt returner, and hopefully he can eliminate the drops that plagued him a season ago and caused him to be benched in favor of the sure-handed Artavis Scott. If McCloud continues to struggle, we could see anyone from Cornell Powell to Hunter Renfrow inserted in his place. Here’s hoping McCloud bounces back and realizes his potential, as Clemson will likely place more of a premium on flipping field position via the return to put its offense in better situations this season.